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Genes are not excuse enough : LETTER

"DO YOUR genes make you a criminal" (12 February) may indicate the latest phase in the nature/nurture debate. But the search for "the gene" for criminality is also a way of denying responsibility. To plead a genetic predisposition for violence or "criminality" in mitigation of a crime is to plead being human, which lets most of us out. Evidence is presented which is claimed to show that Stephen Mobley was not abused or mistreated as a child, therefore the "cause" of his behaviour must lie in his genes. If he, and others, including men in urban ghettoes, can be shown to be "natural born killers", then all the reformist, remedial approaches to criminal behaviour and to social problems can be cast aside.

It disturbs me that we all collude with the effort to deny our own responsibility in this. It is not that a genetic blueprint "forces" us to behave in inappropriate or violent ways, but that we repeat, in a compulsive way, some inappropriate or violent behaviour which has been done to us.

Of course there are genetic predispositions upon which our experiences act, but we have been overcoming our worst "instincts" for centuries.

We have largely accepted that sexual abuse is a behaviour learnt by being abused oneself, and that neglect or cruel treatment experienced by children is often imitated by the abused when they become parents.

There is mounting evidence showing a link between the recent rise in criminality and unemployment/poverty, for which the Government is trying to deny responsibility. It's this denial of responsibility which is the worrying trend, not violent or criminal behaviour in response to neglect or cruelty.

E Mary Sullivan

London SE3