Elephant culls, compensation culture and others

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More understanding needed of elephants and their environment

More understanding needed of elephants and their environment

Sir: There is no consensus that culling is the only short-term answer to reducing elephant populations ("Return of the culling fields?", 15 March). The International Fund for Animal Welfare and many others believe it is a cruel, unethical, unnecessary and scientifically unsound practice. Many independent scientists believe there is no need to reduce the population at this stage.In fact, South African National Parks' determination to push through its plans to resume elephant culling in Kruger only illustrates its failure to develop longer-term solutions over the last ten years. Other options exist and the IFAW supports research into developing alternatives such as trans-boundary conservation and contraception.

While southern Africa is home to relatively abundant elephant populations, southern African conservation authorities have a long way to go in understanding the complex interactions between elephants and their environment.

A report released this week highlighted Sudan as yet another hotspot for the international illegal ivory trade that is devastating elephant populations in west and central Africa. For example, numbers in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Garamba National Park have been slashed by poachers from 11,000 ten years ago to just 1,453 in 2003.

IFAW Southern Africa Director
Cape Town

There must be fair compensation  

Sir: In response to the letter of Colin Ettinger (16 March), is there any way his Association of Personal Injury Lawyers can relieve fears about being sued, especially as those fears could have a knock-on effect on patients and pupils which might lead to litigation for other reasons.

Just over three years ago, I smashed my ankle so badly I needed a pin and plate operation. When the consultant said I could go home, I couldn't wait to leave hospital.

Imagine my irritation and horror when my departure was blocked by the physiotherapy department on the grounds that I was unable to handle my crutches properly. It came out that the overriding concern was not my wellbeing but fear of litigation should I fall, injure myself further and then sue.

I was finally allowed home, without signing a self-discharge form, and managed quite comfortably for the next 48 hours on my own, only glad to be in the comfort of my own home and away from indifferent and clumsy nurses, senile and noisy patients and appalling cleaning and catering conditions. If the hospital had not given in I would have sued all right - for prolonging my psychological trauma.

New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Sir: We must not let the debate around the so-called compensation culture ("Reality behind myth of compensation culture", Letters, 16 March) detract from the overriding need to ensure that fair compensation gets to the right people at the right time.

Insurance companies have a crucial role to play, not just in providing financial protection against the risk of being sued, but in offering guidance on good risk management to help customers reduce the risks they face. With the average cost of a personal injury claim having risen by nearly one third in real terms in the last decade, better risk management is key to ensure that customers can continue to benefit from affordable insurance protection.

Our "Making the Market Work" initiative is playing an important part in driving health and safety standards; employer trade groups representing over 200,000 firms have so far passed through the scheme. Better health and safety standards not only improve business profitability and reduce the risks of being sued, but can be reflected in more affordable insurance costs. The insurance industry is also tackling the issues of reforming legal costs, encouraging better rehabilitation and looking at ways of funding the rising number of long tail disease claims - all essential to ensure we have a system of compensation that is fit for the world we live in.

Director of General Insurance, Association of British Insurers London EC2

Deaths in custody

Sir: Johann Hari's attack on the arrangements for investigating deaths in police custody is ill-informed. ("So many deaths, so few prosecutions", 16 March). It is an important issue that deserves a debate based on the facts.

Every death in these circumstances is a tragedy. The family and friends of the person who has died want to know what happened and why, and to make sure the same thing does not happen to someone else. That is why, in response to the very cases he mentions - including Shiji Lapite and Ibrahima Sey - the Independent Police Complaints Commission was set up, with new powers to take over the investigation of deaths in custody and ensure the police are both held accountable for their actions and learn the lessons for the future.

Mr Hari was wrong when he stated that 100 people died in police custody in 2003/4. In fact 38 deaths occurred in or following police custody and one person died in a fatal shooting incident. Others involved police driving or other contact with the police.

Using the current definitions, the number of deaths occurring yearly in police custody had fallen to a low of 27. This is disturbing enough and there is absolutely no room for complacency but the fall reflects the work undertaken by our predecessor, the Police Complaints Authority, the police service and the Home Office in response to concerns expressed by campaign groups.

Many deaths in custody are drug and alcohol related. Nine out 10 of those who die in custody are white people. However, research has found that restraint deaths have involved disproportionate numbers of black men. Thankfully such deaths are rare because the police service, prisons and special hospitals are now more aware of the dangers of restraining people for long periods.

Of course when officers clearly fail in their duties or abuse their authority they should either face prosecution or disciplinary action. The IPCCwill rigorously investigate, although we are not judge and jury.

Where I agree with Mr Hari is that mental health and policing is a key issue. One of the most disturbing features of the deaths we have investigated since we became operational in April last year is that half of the people who died had mental health problems. This needs urgent action and we are working with both the police service and mental health organisations. It is clear that a police cell should not, except in an emergency, be regarded as a "place of safety" for people in acute mental distress. There must be much better coordination between the health service and the police when dealing with mental health emergencies.

Chair, Independent Police Complaints Commission
London WC1

Crash tests on cars

Sir: Your article "NCAP stars lose their sparkle" (Motoring, 15 March) paints too bleak a picture of the European New Car Assessment Programme. The stars are still sparkling bright. Prior to these independent crash tests the consumer did not have a clue whether Car A was safer than Car B.

Today the car buyer can compare star ratings for occupant and pedestrian protection. Today the vehicle manufacturers take their Euro NCAP ratings very seriously. As a result of publicity over crash test results some badly scoring models have been discontinued and sales of NCAP five-star cars have increased. Many manufacturers now use their ratings in advertising. Vehicle Safety is a much more prominent issue for both manufacturers and consumers as a result of the programme.

Recently it has been encouraging to see progress on pedestrian safety with more cars achieving three stars. The testing system is evolving and has been a major contribution to saving lives on the roads. We encourage all motorists to check Euro NCAP ratings before buying a car.

Executive Director, RAC Foundation

UK arms industry

Sir: In his Budget, the Chancellor set aside an extra £400m for defence expenditure. How much of this extra money will go towards the UK arms industry?

The UK is the second largest exporter of arms in the world and the Government continues to encourage the British arms trade via the Defence Export Services Organisation (£31m subsidy), export credit (£222m), via the Ministry of Defence procurement policy (£200m) and via government spending on defence-related research and development (£483m).

These subsidies sit uneasily with the Commission for Africa's recommendations and Mr Brown's own ambitions for Africa.

Liberal Democrat international development spokesman
House of Commons

Iraq and destruction

Sir: A question about the war in Iraq has been nagging away at me for some time now. I think perhaps I have found, in your correspondent Steve Cole, the man to answer it.

It goes like this: a handful of young men led and inspired by a charismatic leader who hates the way the world's most powerful nation behaves on the international stage destroy a few buildings, in the process killing a few thousand innocent individuals.

Subsequently thousands of young men, led and inspired by a different charismatic leader who hates the way Iraq behaves towards its own people, destroy whole cities, in the process killing tens of thousands of innocent individuals and leaving the country devastated.

What I don't understand is that Steve Cole, among others, seems to think the first is immoral whilst the second is just. If not Steve Cole, will someone please explain this to me?

East Riding

Nepal on the brink

Sir: The UN and EU have warned that Nepal is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster. I recently visited Nepal and sadly must report that the country is heading towards a human rights disaster as well.

Civilians in the districts are terrorised by the army and Maoist forces alike, with killings, torture and disappearances widespread. Yet those who would normally expose these abuses have been silenced by the government. Journalists, lawyers and activists in Nepal are afraid. Editors are told what to print, radio stations told to broadcast only music.

The UK and others must press the UN Commission on Human Rights, meeting now in Geneva, to pass a strong resolution on Nepal, sending a rapporteur to ensure that the country is not closed off from the rest of the world.

Amnesty International UK Director
London EC2

Becoming French  

S ir: In his letter on the nominations for Greatest French person, Paul Greenwood fails to mention that Marie Curie, the "Pole", chose to become French (letter, 17 March). She was the first woman to get a chair at the Sorbonne, and was honoured with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 and for chemistry in 1911. Her ashes were transferred to the Panthéon in 1995. The French thrive on "foreigners" such as Aznavour, Colucci and Zidane.

Martlesham Heath, Suffolk

Quarters don't add up

Sir: Did I hear our Chancellor claim credit for 50 consecutive quarters of economic growth during his Budget speech? I don't believe he has been in power throughout 50 consecutive quarters. Has he sneakily borrowed some from the previous Conservative administration?

North Shields, Tyne and Wear

Unequal treatment

S ir: Neal Lawson writes of the NHS that we are all treated the same, having equal worth and value (Opinion, 18 March) If that were true there would be a screening programme for cancer of the prostate as well as the breast, and an appointment with my GP would be available in two days instead of fourteen.

London E7

No booing at the ENO

Sir: I was surprised to read Alan Strachan's comments regarding booing at English National Opera (Choruses of approval, 17 March). Far from it being a fixture, booing has not been heard at the London Coliseum for some time. Our most recent productions - Semele, Pirates of Penzance, La Clemenza di Tito and The Barber of Seville - have all been very enthusiastically received . Our current hit On The Town received a standing ovation on its opening night.

Artistic Director & Chief Executive, ENO

Marmite terror

Sir: The Marmite commercial presently terrorising today's children (letter, 18 March) is a parody of the 1958 sci-fi film The Blob starring Steve McQueen. We should all be compensated for having to sit through that.

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Quarters don't add up

Sir: Did I hear our Chancellor claim credit for 50 consecutive quarters of economic growth during his Budget speech? I don't believe he has been in power throughtout 50 consecutive quarters. Has he sneakily borrowed some from the previous Conservative administration?

North Shields, Tyne & Wear