Cot death, Bombers and others

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The Independent Online

Don't blame Sir Roy Meadow for failures of the system

Sir: Sir Roy Meadow, the eminent retired paediatrician and medical expert witness at the centre of the cot death controversy, seems to be at distinct risk of being hung out to dry by his profession and the media ("Cot death expert accused of disliking women", 24 January).

Sir Roy gave evidence as an expert witness in a court of law, many times. His opinion was no doubt sincerely held but may well have been wrong. The best, most highly paid and most incisive barristers cross-examined him. Defence medical expert witnesses too, had the opportunity to put their views forcefully and a jury directed by a judge then decided the verdict. Yet his arguments, in a court of law, held sway.

If it is found that his opinions were incorrect, then it is surely not Professor Meadow, but the system that allows the extraordinary prominence to be given to one man's views, that is at fault. Is it in our interest to allow one individual to be sacrificed to deflect fire and allow an outdated and flawed adversarial system of justice to continue?

Consultant in Obstetrics & Maternal-Fetal Medicine

Sir: Deborah Orr (Opinion, 22 January) makes some important points about the courts and the best interests of the child.

I wonder if she is aware that many care and adoption orders are made by magistrates who have neither the training nor the expertise of family court judges. On one occasion, when giving expert medical evidence in a child protection case, I was repeatedly asked, by the chairman of the bench of three male magistrates, what I would do in their position!

Mediation between parents and social workers could, indeed, offer a way forward in some cases, as evidenced by a pilot study undertaken at the Travistock Clinic under the auspices of the Department of Health. However, the mediator must be, and be seen to be, impartial. Social workers, who have a statutory responsibility for children, cannot, therefore, act as mediators.

Consultant Child Psychiatrist
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

What Tonge really said about bombers

Sir: I must congratulate you for your courageous support for Jenny Tonge and for elucidating what she actually said, as apart from what she was interpreted as saying (leading article, 24 January).

There seems to be a concerted campaign by supporters of the present Israeli government not only to brand all criticism of Israel as anti-Jewish but to rewrite history and to put all the blame for the present deplorable situation on the Palestinians and their support for terrorism. Israel has long used its own form of "terrorism" and intimidation against the Arabs, and it is difficult to say which began first. It could be argued, in fact, that the situation began its present downward spiral with the assassination of Rabin by a Jewish extremist. This has not been helped by the immigration of largely American-born settlers who seem to think they are re-enacting a sort of Wild West, with the Arabs as Red Indians.

It is perfectly apparent to any fair-minded observer that any eventual solution would have to be on the lines of the pre-1967 borders, but no Israeli government would now be able to make that stick. If Hamas etc gave up their weapons and stopped suicide attacks tomorrow, does anybody really believe that the Palestinians would get a "fair deal"?

Whitchurch, Shropshire

Sir: We wonder whether Dr Jenny Tonge and her supporters would also show understanding of those suicide bombers who murdered British diplomats in Turkey, holiday-makers in Bali, UN workers and coalition forces in Iraq, scores of Muslims in Indonesia, Morocco, Algeria and Saudi Arabia or thousands of innocents in New York. Or is their empathy only confined to when the victims are Jews?

The terrorists who carried out these atrocities, as well as the two British citizens who came to Tel Aviv to be suicide bombers, were driven by incitement and hatred, rather than frustration and despair as Dr Tonge suggests. We certainly would have expected that a spokesperson for children's affairs would have shown less sympathy for a phenomenon that cynically exploits young mothers and incites young teenagers to become suicide bombers. Indeed, even Palestinian society has widely criticised the recent suicide bombing by Reem Riashi, 22. Due to personal problems and depression, Riashi was forced by Hamas to become a suicide bomber. She leaves two young children motherless.

Israel has shown its willingness to reach a peaceful agreement with the Palestinians. Yet terrorism only harms the Palestinians' aspirations. No grievance however legitimate can ever justify the indiscriminate murder of people in schools, coffee shops and buses or the indoctrination of young children to hate.

Press Secretary
Embassy of Israel
London W8

Sir: Why does Rabbi Ian D Morris (letter, 26 January) think that "I might just consider it myself" means one does not regard suicide bombing as "so immoral as to be beyond the boundaries of defensible behaviour"? Those two positions are simply not synonymous. Jenny Tonge was saying she could imagine being so desperate as to commit morally indefensible acts.

Tavistock, Devon

Sir: Rabbi Morris adopts an approach to language which allows him to make words spoken by others mean what he says they mean. Trying to understand another's action does not mean condoning it. Considering something and then rejecting it as morally indefensible is surely a good thing. When I say I can understand how someone can kill a partner who is abusing them, I am not condoning that act but trying to see why things happen.

No, Rabbi Morris, it is you who should be ashamed - both of your inhumanity and your contorting of the language. When our politicians are damned for considering why people act as they do, then we might as well all give up and revert to the jungle.


Sir: An Old Testament Jewish hero commits suicide in order to kill 3,000 Philistines. Could someone please explain the difference between Samson and a Palestinian suicide bomber?


Deaths in prison

Sir: The Ministerial report published on 23 January 2004 following the Prisons Ombudsman's recent investigation at Styal Prison, Cheshire, makes grim reading ("Serious failings found at suicide prison", 24 January").

During the 12 months ending August 2003, six women died at Styal, including my daughter (and only child) Sarah. My daughter's death was the third in this alarming sequence of six deaths. Following my daughter's death in January 2003, I called for an independent public inquiry. Since then, a further three women have died at Styal, and I have been appalled at the dilatory response of both HM Prison Service and the Home Office. I fail to understand why six women should have to die before Paul Goggins, Prisons Minister, announces that an "independent" inquiry will be held.

Only one inquest has taken place - that of Nissa Anne Smith, a 20-year-old mother. Ms Smith was found hanged in her cell, and no suicide note had been left. The coroner and jury returned an open verdict, and so it is wrong to refer to her death as a suicide.

Five inquests remain outstanding, and it would be inadvisable to pre-empt the inquests by referring to those deaths as suicides. It is completely unacceptable that, 12 months after my daughter's death, an inquest has not been held, nor has one been scheduled.

Malpas, Cheshire

How to think

Sir: Your correspondents clearly want a course that teaches thinking as a skill in itself when they praise the new AS-level in the history, philosophy and ethics of science (letters, 20 January). They might agree that an AS-level in Critical Thinking is precisely what they seek: "Critical Thinking students are expected to develop and demonstrate the reasoning skills which enable them to analyse, evaluate and present arguments...The teaching of Critical Thinking aims to encourage the development of transferable skills through interactive skill-based learning using materials which can be selected from any subject area." - OCR AS Level GCE Critical Thinking 3821.

It is tempting, when reviewing some of the arguments used in the media, politics or business, to wonder if the subject should be made compulsory. An A2 course, which would deliver a full A-level, currently awaits regulatory sign-off.

Group Director of Public Affairs
University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate

Student fees

Sir: Hats off to Terry Jones (Opinion, 27 January) for spotting the rottenness at the heart of Tony Blair's ideology. The PM's stance on university fees is at odds with the notion of a mutually supportive and beneficial society; it is as if he believes there should just be individuals, paying taxes solely for their own exclusive benefit.

Hang on, why does this seem familiar?

Whitton, Middlesex

Sir: Terry Jones's example of the town governors of Lucca who, in 1347, "provided every citizen who wished to study law or medicine ... with the funds to do so" is all very admirable. However if, as now, they had to find the funds to pay for citizens who wished to study the media, marketing, basket-weaving and heaven knows what other Mickey Mouse subjects, they might have found themselves out of pocket.

London E17

Sir: Breaking a manifesto commitment is "not the worst charge in the world", according to Alan Johnson, the higher education minister (Monday Interview, 26 January). At the next general election do you think it would be feasible for Mr Johnson to indicate which manifesto pledges the Labour Party intends to stick by and which it intends to resile from, in order to give the poor punter in the voting booth at least half a chance of making an informed decision?


Capital buses

Sir: Your article "On the record: what has Livingstone done for London?" (10 January), is missing a key fact or two on TfL's bus services. London's buses are not "often empty" nor do they run on "archaic routes". We regularly review the routing and frequency of services and plan the network to ensure that buses run to capacity in the peak hour. London buses carry on average more passengers than buses anywhere else in the country, and the number of passengers per bus has risen by 10 per cent since the Mayor took office.

The number of passengers using London buses is at its highest level since 1969. Each weekday 7,500 London buses carry 5.4 million passengers on over 700 different routes.

The article was incorrect in stating that passengers are subsidised to the tune of £3 per ride: the actual level of subsidy is 27p per passenger journey.

With regard to your reference to TfL's financial "black hole", London's bus services have been one of the very few major successes in the UK public transport industry in recent years. It is a success we want to continue and it is very much in the capital's and the nation's interests that we do so. In order to expand the network further however, we need support from the Government: this is not, therefore, a "black hole", but rather an opportunity for the Government to invest in success.

Managing Director Surface Transport
Transport for London
London SW1

Military record  

Sir: In your rogues' gallery of potential Labour rebels (27 January), I'm described as a "pacifist". It is, therefore, strange that I served loyally in the forces in Basra in 1955 and 1956 during my national service. And that I more recently supported military action in Afghanistan and Kosovo - although I did feel that we went over the top in both cases.

(North East Derbyshire, Lab)
House of Commons

Morality plays

Sir: Yes, (letter, 26 January) Polonius did say, "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be", but he was an old fool. People cannot settle arguments by quoting Shakespeare in a resonant, plonking tone of voice. Lady Macbeth says, "Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under it." Iago says, "Put money in thy purse", and he's a murderous racist. Shakespeare was a dramatist, with whose characters we are free to disagree; not a compiler of moral precepts.

London E10

Bricks of memory

Sir: Andrew Barnes (letter, 24 January) remembers the miniature simulated bricks stuck together with paste that could later be dissolved and the bricks recycled. Indeed they were excellent and, perhaps, led me to a career in civil engineering and architecture. They were called "Brickplayer" and are still brought down from the roof for the pleasure of grandchildren. I envied but never had Minibrix and I disliked Bayko (as much as I have disliked full-size system building more recently). Meccano, of course, was wonderful; and Lego so long as it stuck to buildings!

Alton, Hampshire

Sounds of silence

Sir: I have several tapes of the unexpurgated version of John Cage's 4'33' ( letter, 27 January ), some lasting 60 minutes and some 90. I also possess a shorter version that magically cleans the head of my tape recorder.

St Albans, Hertfordshire