Asylum policy, Clarke's terror law and others

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Asylum policy has too little regard for children's safety

Sir: Your front page story "Happy Birthday. We are throwing you out of Britain" (23 February) suggests that the Home Office is "intensifying its efforts to remove easy targets". Save the Children believes it is doing this without necessary regard to children's safety and protection.

Return should only take place if it is proven to be in the best interests of the child and should be preceded by a high-quality asylum determination process. We question why Blerim was only granted temporary status when his story suggests he has serious protection needs and are concerned that other children may be in a similar situation.

Albania has been chosen by the Home Office as a country to pilot the forced return of unaccompanied children because it is deemed to be "safe". In fact, Albania has few structures in place to ensure that the welfare needs of children are met and protected. A recent UN report on Albania outlined that there are insufficient resources, including a lack of adequately trained personnel, to prevent and combat ill-treatment and abuse. Knowing this, what chance does Blerim, with no family, have of creating a long-term and meaningful life for himself?

We would also question why Blerim has been detained when he has complied with the asylum process throughout. New research from Save the Children published next week finds that, despite government assurances to the contrary, large numbers of children are being detained often for long periods of time. This practice must be stopped when there are already workable alternatives that would protect children.

Director-General, Save the Children, London EC1

Clarke's terror law open to future abuse

Sir: We are very worried about where the Government's anti-terrorist legislation is leading. We are sure that the New Labour Government will behave honourably in executing its policies in the matter of suspected terrorists, but no one can predict how other political parties will behave if in power.

The legislation is a dangerous precedent to set, overturning as it does habeas corpus and the administration of justice by a judiciary, independent of political interference.

The Law Lords have declared that David Blunkett's Act was unlawful. Parliament should accept that ruling and not seek ways to circumvent the difficulties that the ruling imposes by tinkering with the detail. It is a bad law.

It is ironic that we should have so recently commemorated the relief of Auschwitz, declaring that we must never let anything like that happen again, when we are, in fact, repeating the mistakes of the German coalition government under Brüning in the 1930s. He too passed laws to grant executive powers to the Gestapo to arrest and detain without trial, but it was not until the Nazi government of 1933 that the true error of that act became clear.


Pudsey, West Yorkshire

Sir: Absolutely no politician (or policeman come to that), can have the right to lock me up without recourse to a judge and jury. I am protected by Magna Carta and the 1689 Bill of Rights. Every single politician who votes for these proposals put forward by Charles Clarke must be removed from office at the earliest opportunity.

A major weakness within a democracy arises when a dishonest political party, having an overwhelming majority, is enabled to neuter the second chamber. This, combined with a weak monarchy - only concerned with their own image and comforts - leaves us, the people, to fight our own battles.

Axminster, Devon

Sir: The Government wants the Home Secretary to have the power to detain individuals without charge and so without his decisions being open to public scrutiny. It does not seem so long ago that a Home Secretary resigned after decisions he had made came into the public domain. Is it really a good idea to give the Home Secretary such powers?


Naval disaster

Sir: As a maritime historian, I was surprised and delighted to read Robert Fisk's article discussing the tragic loss of HMS Victoria (19 February) .

Sadly, the implication that HMS Victoria might have been present at the battle of Jutland is somewhat far-fetched. Known with her identical sister Sans Pareil as "the pair of slippers", she was one of the worst heavy units ever built for the Royal Navy. Her giant 16.25-inch guns had an appallingly short life, their muzzles drooped, and poor Victoria was important only insofar as she introduced the triple-expansion steam engine to large naval vessels (and, oddly, as Fisk mentions, the steam turbine). Her sister survived longer, until scrapped under Lord Fisher's sweeping reforms as obsolete.

Sir George Tryon however, was one of the greatest officers in the Royal Navy, and far from "wanting obedience, not initiative" deliberately set his subordinates manoeuvres that would test and force their initiative rather than relying on highly detailed, lengthy orders from the flagship, which he rightly believed impracticable during wartime. Tryon wanted his captains to think about the aim of the command or signal they received, and then attain it without needing instruction on how to achieve it.

The day before the fleet sailed for the last time under his command, he issued the following amazing memorandum: "When the literal obedience to any order, however given, would entail a collision with a friend, or endanger a ship by running on shore, or in any other way, paramount orders direct that the danger is to be avoided while the object of the order be attained if possible."

Tryon was a big man with a dominant personality, and many of the awed subordinates he tried to hard to instil initiative into simply wanted to receive orders from him, rather than have to think for themselves. That he therefore blamed himself for failing in his self-appointed and vitally necessary task - "It's all my fault" - is understandable.

Anlaby, East Riding of Yorkshire

Sir: Robert Fisk's assertion that "Incredibly, Tryon's deputy was none other than John Jellicoe" is astonishing. As a commander young Jellicoe was Tryon's junior by four ranks. He was second in command of Victoria, but that is a very far cry from second in command of the Mediterranean Fleet.

Equally amazing is his assertion that Victoria's many guns were "mounted to repel the Germans she would never fight in the First World War. For Victoria would surely have fought in the Royal Navy's greatest battle of that conflict". In 1893, Germany's coastal defence force was nowhere on the naval horizon, and the ship was built with France and Russia in mind as possible enemies. It is fantasy to suppose that Victoria could have taken part in the Battle of Jutland, for by 1914 she would have been obsolete.

The wreck, standing on end as it is, is an evocative, haunting relic. And it is right to blame the C-in-C for an appallingly costly mistake (370 lives lost) in his turning-circle calculations. But he was also forcing through a vital reform of the Fleet's battle-doctrine, for which he deserves respect, and which was abandoned on his death - with consequences which were arguably apparent 23 years later at Jutland.

Reader in Defence Studies
King's College London

Online poker

Sir: Further to my comments about online poker ("How poker became a winner on the Net", 23 February), there are big psychological differences between online and offline poker.

A useful psychological tool in poker is to "read" a player through their body language and speech. Playing online poker, a gambler is denied this advantage. An online poker player must take that weakness and turn it into a positive strength. Online poker permits players to create a false identity. As a player you could portray the façade of being a young, attractive novice female player when in fact you are a very experienced recognised pro.

On a psychological level, the key to a "hustle", or manipulating other players in online poker is by projecting a character and hiding your identity. For instance, if you are playing with novices it may be profitable to portray an experienced professional in order to intimidate players into submission.

Professor of Gambling Studies
Nottingham Trent University

Citizen Windsor

Sir: On Wednesday the constitution was fundamentally altered in a typically British way, not by revolution but by the executive picking up the goalposts and turning them round 180 degrees.

By stating that Prince Charles rights are covered by the Human Rights Act this bunch of radicals has destroyed the fiction that the government is nothing more than the Crown in Parliament. We now learn that the royals are citizens like everyone else, who can draw on all legislative benefits, and by implication, are subject to legal restrictions and obligations. Whither Crown immunity and the right to ignore bothersome matters such as paying tax or displaying number plates?

Similarly the whole notion of prosecutions in the name of the Crown collapses. To which court would Charles take his complaint? And he can marry a Catholic! Presumably the Human Rights Act overrides those discriminatory elements of the Royal Marriage Act as much as it overrides the 1836 and 1949 Registration and Civil Marriage Acts.

After 1,000 years, we are free!

(Citizen, not subject)
Washington, Tyne & Wear

Crimes in Iraq

Sir: Your decision to cover the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Basra through a series of maudlin biographies of "exposed" British soldiers (24 February) was misguided.

The great mystery that these biographies pose - how could these apparently decent young men have committed such atrocities? - is in fact no mystery at all. The British and American armies were sent on an illegal war of revenge by governments which have ignored the Geneva Convention and licensed torture in all but name.

By blandly retailing the official line that these were "shocking and appalling" exceptions to the rule, rather than straightforward expressions of the logic of the "war on terror", you deflect attention from the real criminals in the case.


Vivisection bias

Sir: Colin Blakemore, in his defence of torturing primates (Letters, 22 February), suggests that opponents should consult those who suffer from horrific diseases.

While I have the utmost sympathy for anyone who suffers in this way, people so afflicted can hardly be expected to have impartial and objective opinions on this subject. If one of my children had a painful or terminal condition, I dare say I would support vivisection on Colin Blakemore himself (or anyone else) if I thought it might produce a cure, but that would not be unbiased or ethical.

Like factory farming, vivisection is conducted away from public view - most people would be appalled and sickened if forced to confront the reality of what goes on behind closed doors.

Iden, East Sussex

Inevitable weather

Sir: I read with amusement Paul Kelbie's report headed "Snow causes chaos as cold snap deepens" (24 February). He describes a two-inch fall of snow as heavy. How would he describe an 18-inch fall - cataclysmic? I would describe Wednesday's snowfall as light. The chaos it caused is a sad reflection of British travel infrastructure and people's inability to drive according to the conditions. It is unavoidable that weather happens even in the cities.

Kiltarlity, Highland

Coursing without killing

Sir: I note that none of the dogs in the pictures of hare coursing in your paper recently are muzzled. Here in Ireland muzzling was made compulsory a number of years ago. The result - hares are no longer killed, mass protests at meetings are a thing of the past, the sport continues. Does the British coursing fraternity not pay attention to what's happening around them when they come to Ireland to buy all their best dogs?


Our ape cousins

Sir: Although I would not wish to defend Nick Griffin's racist views it is wrong of Doug Macari ("Politics for apes", letter, 23 February) to suggest that we are more evolved than chimpanzees. We have simply evolved along a separate pathway. Perhaps we should have an enhanced moral outlook, but that is an entirely different thing.


A small oversight

Sir: In his letter "Just an oversight" (23 February), the oversight appears to be Mr Vickers'. The Oxford English Dictionary records the meaning "supervision" from the early 14th Century, but "failure to notice" only from the late 15th. A bit long for current fashion, don't you think?

Bedale, North Yorkshire

Tory priorities

Sir, If trade, industry, food and agriculture are "non-priority areas" ("Tory tax cuts", letter, Oliver Letwin, 23 February), exactly what sort of economy does Mr Letwin have in mind for us?

Ripon, North Yorkshire

New readers

Sir: If neither Helen Cresswell (letter, 23 February) nor the majority of your readers have "read a word" of Hunter S Thompson's work, then I must congratulate you on the vital exposure your cover has given to this great, but apparently little read, writer.