Fathers, Iraq, road rage and others

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Courts fail to enforce orders for contact with fathers

Courts fail to enforce orders for contact with fathers

Sir: May I contribute to the debate engendered by the antics of Fathers4Justice, from the position of one who has dealt with some hundreds of contact disputes?

A small number of fathers do have a legitimate grievance, but it is not the one stated or implied in the propaganda stunts they seek to mount. Disputes over contact with children are governed by the Children Act - an excellent piece of legislation requiring no amendment on this topic. Under the Act the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration. Neither Fathers4Justice nor some politicians who appear to sympathise with them appear to argue from this starting point.

When a court limits or refuses contact to the parent who does not have the day-to-day care of the child it does so because it considers such a course to be in the child's best interests. In any event, only a tiny proportion of divorces involve a dispute over contact with children. Where there is a disagreement, at least half are settled without a contested court hearing, thanks usually to the efforts of the Probation Service. Where a court order has to be made, perhaps in 1-2 per cent of divorces - the parties generally abide by it.

But, there is a residual problem where the order is flouted. And in these cases, fathers do have a real grievance, because the courts are scandalously pusillanimous when it comes to enforcing their own orders. Men are sent to prison for not paying maintenance, and mothers for not sending their children to school, but equal sternness for mothers who refuse to obey or simply sabotage contact orders is almost wholly lacking, bringing the law into disrepute and tempting the aggrieved into disruptive action. If Fathers4Justice were to concentrate, in a reasoned and reasonable manner, upon this failing in our domestic legal system, they would deserve to command sympathy.

Penrith, Cumbria
The writer is a retired district judge

Iraq insurgents are no freedom fighters

Sir: If Christopher Leadbetter (letter, 21 September) seriously believes that those who are prepared to behead innocent people are not terrorists, then what hope can there be for democracy and a civil society in Iraq? Does he really think that the coalition forces can just up and go and leave the country at the mercy of such barbaric, callous people (if "people" is the right word to describe such excuses for humanity)?

These terrorist groups, many apparently consisting of non-Iraqis, care not a jot for human life. They bomb and kill Iraqis who want to try and rebuild their country, and constantly seek to destabilise any efforts towards a decent society there, which, of course, is precisely what they do not want. Freedom fighters they are not.

The Western media continually tells us that the "insurgents/terrorists" want the coalition forces to leave the country. But, if that is true, they are going an odd way about achieving their aim. If they had a genuine desire to see an independent, democratic Iraq, they would be co-operating with the interim government to reach a peaceful outcome.

It is about time the media condemned these atrocities, rather than continually spin against the coalition forces, which can only give succour and encouragement to the extremists. The Independent, for example, has written numerous editorials criticising the US and UK, but I have yet to see a leader unequivocally denouncing the barbarism of beheading innocent people.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, defeat of these extremists must be the number one priority.

East Horsley, Surrey

Sir: In your leading article of 21 September, you say the Prime Minister owes us an explanation and an apology for taking us to war on erroneous premises.

How is he expected to explain? Perhaps he would stand up in the House and say, "Yes there were errors, certain questions might have been asked, but you voted to support the war. Can we move on?" Many of the MPs (even ministers) of Mr Blair's own party have been allowed to make complete idiots of themselves, but the party still wants him as leader. The Prime Minister's duty is to keep the Government in power, not to explain how it is done.

How can Mr Blair apologise for the self-delusion of others? He is a real magician. He never fails to turn up and put on a show, playing to packed houses at every performance. Audiences know it's all smoke and mirrors. We marvel at his skill. Why should he apologise?

There appears to be a willingness to interpret Mr Blair's every ambiguous utterance to his advantage. This is an endearing quality in people, but it is also the cause of their uncertainty over "trust". It is not Mr Blair's judgement they should question, but their own.

Bishopston, Swansea

Sir: Now Tony Blair says that we are into a new Iraq war, will he publish any advice he has from the Attorney General as to its legality? Is this second war any more legal than the first?


Cruelty of the chase

Sir: Much of what has be written recently about the fox-hunting ban, even by its advocates, seems distracted by peripheral issues such as class distinctions and factory-farming. Yes, chicken and pig factories are bigger problems than fox-hunting in terms of the numbers suffering, but the presence of industrial-scale cruelty has never been a reason to turn a blind eye to the cruelties dealt by minority groups.

I take issue with inferences that fox-hunting is only mildly cruel. Sure, sometimes the fox is taken early and dies quickly, but often it is chased for long periods. In natural situations, larger predators typically pursue foxes only over short distances because the possible gains from a catch are weighed against the probability of losing the fox and energy wasted in the chase. Consequently, the physiology of foxes is not adapted for the stresses of long chases that only pleasure hunting allows. Incidents of subsequent death due to internal bleeding and kidney failure among foxes that escape provide some indication of the torture of the hunt.

Some say that the world is a cruel place, accept it. Certainly, from alleopathic trees that poison their own saplings to avoid competition, to invading male lions that kill the pride's cubs, nature is selfish and often hideous. It can co-opt us into the most base of deeds against our own and other species. But the luxury of abundant resources in combination with empathy allows us to rise above the cruelty.

So when landmarks in humanity are reached, such as the emancipation of slaves or the abolition of killing for pleasure, we should not get bogged down in issues of class , but celebrate the victory of compassion over cruelty.

Department of Zoology
University of Oxford

Sir: Cruelty is the causing of unnecessary stress or suffering. Recreational fishing increasingly relies on releasing any fish that are hooked back to their environment, often repeatedly in the case of individual fish, and frequently for money prizes in angling competitions. It cannot be justified as contributing to pest control nor, for the most part, is the activity undertaken primarily to obtain food. It is entirely gratuitous.

Until anti-hunting politicians can explain why hunting is so uniquely "cruel", when compared with angling (or indeed when compared with the havoc wrought on our indigenous wildlife as a consequence of cat ownership), those about to be criminalised by a hunting ban have every justification in feeling that they have been singled out for special treatment, and every right to be angry.

London W11

Sir: I see no rational arguments in favour of a ban on fox-hunting. It is a leisure activity enjoyed by a small section of - mostly, but not exclusively - affluent permanent and part-time country residents. The pursuit - which may or may not "demean" those involved depending on your subjective view - claims the lives of very few foxes by comparison with the numbers of wild creatures killed, with varying degrees of cruelty, by vehicles, farming activities and other "blood sports", plus all the manifold depredations of the wild.

Other than the enjoyment of the few participants, there is equally no logic to the continued existence of hunting. It is manifestly and statistically ineffective as a means of fox control. As has been said in these columns, most of those involved are not protecting their own livestock and those who are have ample means in this day and age of securing it properly.

Do any of the above considerations justify the creation - mainly, I suspect, from political motives among the instigators - of such a divisive, disorderly and disproportionate drain on public resources as we are currently witnessing?

Stroud, Gloucestershire

Road rage

Sir: "Indecision, unpredictability, poor anticipation, slow reactions"? I did wonder for ages whether I should reply to Andy Carpenter's letter about women's driving (21 September), then I suddenly thought, "What the hell, I'll just do it now." Will you print it? I dunno... Whoops, better go, the lights have turned green and I've still to put on my mascara...


Sir: This Andy Carpenter. Would he be the one who decisively changes lane with no signal, predictably overtakes on a blind bend, anticipates passing by tail-gating at 70mph and reacts to a red light by accelerating through it?

Orpington, Kent

Sir: The mention of different insurance premiums for women drivers reminds me that when my wife's insurance documents arrived in her maiden name with the title of "Miss", she returned them requesting a correction. When they arrived with her married status the premium was almost 10 per cent lower. I wish someone would explain how marriage affects accident risk, because the insurance company ignored my requests for clarification.

Great Milton, Oxfordshire

Town and country

Sir: Has Johann Hari ever ventured beyond the M25? ("Rural life is only possible because of townie generosity", 17 September) He seems genuinely to believe that anyone who lives outside London is a farmer, enjoying some kind of secret half-price deal on life. Apparently we pay 50 per cent less at our petrol stations. His view of this country as being made up of "town" and "country" is disappointingly naive, given that most of the provinces are now only semi-rural.

He also seems to overlook one of the causes of this, namely Londoners getting their share of the good life. Those who live in what's left of "the country" find themselves out-priced by Londoners seeking second homes. And we're supposed to be grateful.

Boars Hill, Oxfordshire

American monuments

Sir: For me, reading the many articles written across the world about the opening of the new National Museum of the American Indian was bittersweet (report, 20 September). Sweet because of its magnitude, magnificence and importance. But, alas, bitter because it will be the last museum built on the Mall, which means there will never be a National Museum of the African American on our mall.

Let us take a moment and honour my mother and millions of other black female domestic workers. For 50 years of my mother's precious life she was a maid and nanny to rich, southern white families, helping to raise over 70 white children. (My fiancé commented at her funeral: "I ain't seen so many white folks crying since Elvis died.") Multiply that by millions. A tribute is long overdue.

Washington DC


A green thought

Sir: While it is great to see the Lib Dems placing so much emphasis on the environment ("Pledge to raise green tax on 4x4s and aircraft", 22 September), I cannot let Councillor Michael Newby get away with the statements "We know we are the the greenest party" and "There is a large green constituency in the country waiting for a home". Perhaps the word "green" might ring a faint bell?

Enfield Green Party
London N13

Linguistic difficulties

Sir: You report that the Home Office is seeking to recruit police trainees who speak such languages as "Indian", "Pakistani" and "Bangladeshi" (20 September). I suspect they would be better advised to spend their time and effort seeking candidiates who speak languages such as Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Sylheti, Tamil and Urdu.

Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

Remembering Clough

Sir: I am sad to hear of the death of Brian Clough. Back in the 1950s and '60s my Dad took me to see Middlesbrough and watch Cloughie score all those goals. The saddest moment was when he went to the enemy, Sunderland. When he was a manager he took unfashionable clubs and turned them into winners. Think of what he could have done for England. Any manager that has the money can buy a team, but I'd like to see Wenger or Eriksson do better with Hartlepool than Brian did.

Punchbowl, New South Wales, Australia

Column inches

Sir: Simon Carr's dramatic weight loss was indeed excellent news (15 August) - if conveyed in a mildly pornographic way (was it an audition for pin-up at Heaven nightclub, by chance?). He can honestly now be referred to as "the Quality Compact". However, we still seem to have the old widescreen version when reading his column. Is there any chance that a new photograph (ideally, clothed this time) could be placed at the head of his section?

Folkestone, Kent