Letters: A duty to the troops

Like the war or not, we have a duty to the troops
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The Independent Online

This week is an appropriate time to write regarding our obligations towards our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At present, understandably, we are inward-looking, consumed by the misfortune of the credit crunch. At this time, however, young men and women are being killed and seriously injured in the two conflicts. While the numbers may be much lower than in the major conflicts of the 20th century, in proportion to the numbers involved they are high, and to each individual and their immediate family the results are just as catastrophic.

There may be a division of opinion on the rights and wrongs of these two conflicts, but to the armed forces committed to fighting on behalf of us and our elected government that is inconsequential. They need our individual support and they need us to let the Government know that irrespective of our political party beliefs we expect the Government to provide the best equipment and the best medical and subsequent social support to our troops.

The American President Elect, in his speech of the 27 July 2004, said: "When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they're going, to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers on their return."

We, the public, too have a solemn obligation to make sure our elected government adheres to those principles. But beyond that we have a personal duty to be more aware of what they are doing and to make sure they know in any way possible that they have our support. This is important at any time of the year, but with Christmas approaching it is especially so.

M J Hurley

Blackawton, Devon

Who failed to save this baby's life?

How many more helpless children will have to die before someone in authority will do something about it?

Your reporting of the "Baby P" case included the following: "Sharon Shoesmith, the chairwoman of Haringey's local safeguarding children board, the body that led the independent review, refused to apologise for her council's handling of the case. Instead, she criticised the child's mother for 'deceit' in dealing with the council and the police, and extolled the benefits of hindsight, but said: 'The very sad fact is you cannot stop anyone who is determined to kill their children.' "

The sad fact is that those that are now passing the buck failed to save the child's life. Of course the agencies are responsible. The child died despite these agencies, whose sole function is to protect children, being involved for eight months with visits twice a week.

Everyone directly involved and their managers should be suspended forthwith, pending an immediate full inquiry, as it is clear they have no idea of what their role is in protecting helpless children. For this to happen at all shows how ineffective Haringey's agencies actually are, but for it to happen after the Victoria Climbie case and a government inquiry is unforgivable.

David Suchodola

Kingsteignton, Devon

By appointing Lord Laming to carry out yet another inquiry, the Government has ensured that the true reason for the latest child protection disaster in Haringey will not be found. Lord Laming is a product of the very system he is supposed to investigate.

His last report (Victoria Climbie, 2003) led to a more complex set of bureaucratic structures, crossing education, social services, and the health service, police etc. It created new tiers of management, committees and IT systems. Social workers now spend up to 70 per cent of their time in front of computer screens rather than with children and families.

The Audit Commission recently found that the new structures get in the way of professionals. But they also spread responsibility even more thinly around the host of departments and staff – so that as in Haringey "no one is to blame".

During and since the Climbie Inquiry, some of us have been suggesting an alternative: to build the system from the child upwards, through a designated person, an experienced "personal service provider" who gets to know the child, and above all, is responsible for delivering the service. The "system" would then operate as a back-up for the delivery of the service – with accountability going upward from the child rather than downward through a multi-layered command structure. Experienced professionals would be on the front line, not in middle management.

Despite favourable nods towards such an explicit designation of responsibility, in the Climbie inquiry, and the 2003 Green Paper "Every Child Matters", and in the Lords debate over the Children Act 2004, it has been sidelined.

We need an inquiry by someone who can look critically at Lord Laming's own reforms

Dr. Andrew Broadbent

CES Ltd Economic and Social Research, London WC1

The tragic death of "Baby P" in Tottenham will rightly focus attention on what took place in that particular case, but there is a wider issue that is too easily ignored. Haringey is a borough with a large transient and very diverse population. That is often a strength, for example in contributing to a vibrant cultural life, but combined with poverty it can often cause social problems as well.

In that context it is vital that frontline public services, whether it is social work, health, education or the police, are properly resourced and funded, and not subject to attempts at privatisation which serve only to demoralise.

Those politicians who are currently calling for cuts in public spending need to reflect very carefully in the wake of this case as to what is the actual impact of such policies on real people. Tottenham learnt that when Mrs Thatcher abolished "society", and despite some efforts by New Labour it has yet to fully recover.

Keith Flett

Chair, Haringey Trades Union Council, London N17

Answer to the debt crisis – more debt

So the economy has belly-flopped because there is too much private debt, and the solution is to increase public debt and reduce taxation to encourage people to spend more. Either 1 plus 1 equals 4 or it's business as usual.

Jan Tate

Hayling Island, Hampshire

Amid the stories of economic collapse, one cannot but feel sorry for poor Tone and George W. There they were, racking their brains, searching for these elusive weapons of mass destruction in the deserts of Iraq, when all the time they were in New York, sitting on the books of the American financial institutions and preparing to unleash their might on the rest of the unsuspecting world.

Ivan Ruggeri

London N5

First, the Government tries to persuade domestic energy providers to pass any cuts in the price of raw materials on to the consumer, with the object of helping poorer people – many of whom will be relying on income from savings. Second, the Government shames the banks into passing the full Bank of England interest rate reduction on to customers, thereby cutting the income from savings of the very people whom it was supposedly trying to help.

Nick Chadwick


A popular choice of punctuation

I am not surprised that a survey on apostrophes caused cranial pain ("Apostrophe headaches", 11 November). Clearly, respondents were wrestling with the tricky choice of whether to read the word "people" as a singular collective noun, so as to give the answer "people's choice", or to read it as a plural ("peoples"), so as to give the answer "peoples' choice", as in the sentence: "Throughout history the indigenous peoples' choice of settlement has differed from that of the nomadic peoples."

The researchers should be delighted that 46 per cent of the population are aware of this distinction, and they can rest easy in the knowledge that the future of the apostrophe is secure.

Lawrence Crouch

Stonyhurst, Lancashire

Don't exclude the most needy pupils

The most dismal aspect of your depressing tale of the headteacher who suspended her pupils 478 times last year (11 November) was the attitude of the civil servant who seems to be unaware of his own government's policy on school exclusions, revised only last month.

Mrs Hayes has improved her school's exam results by putting the interests of the majority of her pupils first. She and the civil servant seem to have overlooked this government's fundamental message that "every child matters", as well as the battery of resources and guidance which are being successfully utilised by heads who are committed to exam success but also recognise their wider responsibilities.

Nor should your uncritical reporting escape censure. At a time when almost every school is improving its exam results, perhaps The Independent would now cover some of the interesting and positive work being undertaken to reduce exclusions and improve outcomes for very needy children. There's a lot of it about.

Hilton Dawson

Warkworth, Northumberland

Who could have guessed that the removal of disruptive pupils from classrooms would lead to an improvement in performance and quality of life for the motivated pupils who remain? I wonder how Ed Balls and Co will set about expelling this idea - before it has a chance to catch on.

Robert Bottamley

Hedon, East Yorkshire

Police security gag will be misused

The Intelligence and Security Committee says the security services should be given the power to censor reports on issues of national security.

Such a move would undoubtedly have helped the Metropolitan Police to hush up the news of their disastrous shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. As it is, there has been a string of revelations of police incompetence in the years since the shooting, not to mention outright lies.

Only last week it emerged that Tony Blair himself sanctioned the decision to block Independent Police Complaints Commission investigators from visiting the scene of the shooting. The grounds for this were "this was an ongoing counter-terrorism investigation", even though de Menezes was no terrorist and the investigation concerned police mistakes.

With such sloppy thinking, we can be sure that police will use whatever powers they are given in situations well beyond those for which their powers are (ostensibly) intended.

David Knipe



A winner

"Barack" may derive from the Hebrew word for a flash of lightning (letter, 7 November). It is thought to be the origin of the name of Barak, in the biblical book of Judges, who, with the prophetess Deborah, wrought a great victory over Jabin and Sisera.

Robert Cook

London W11

Photo opportunity

Crikey, you really do deliver promptly at The Independent don't you? It seems only last month (probably because it was) following a number of photographs fabulously reinforcing numerous stereotypes, that I suggested the next time a story came up about binge-drinking you might consider illustrating it with a photograph of young women wearing cropped tops and vomiting on the street. And, lo and behold, you did ("Happy hours to be banned in alcohol 'problem areas'", 10 November). Well done.

Michael O'Hare

Northwood, Middlesex

Battle for publicity

Steve Richards contends that whichever party wins the battle of ideas wins the next general election (Opinion, 11 November). The more likely scenario is that the election will be won by the party which secures the most media coverage. That is why the Lib Dems, who, as you acknowledge, are ahead of the others on ideas, will not be forming the next government. It's just too easy to swipe their ideas, knowing they will be denied the coverage to expose the deception.

Stephen Jackson

Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex

Targeting traffickers

Despite budgetary pressures I would like to reassure readers that the Met police are fully committed to continuing to tackle the despicable crime of human trafficking (letter, 12 November). A full review of our future operational response to trafficking, people-smuggling and organised immigration crime is currently being conducted, so that we can provide the most efficient and effective way of investigating the criminals who are involved in these crimes and bringing justice for victims.

Commander Allan Gibson

Metropolitan Police Service

New Scotland Yard, London SW1

Elephant in the lava

I disagree with Stuart Goodacre (letter, 11 November). Last year, 10 of us found the expression "elephant in the room" so useful in a geochemical argument about the sources of some volcanic lavas that we agreed to withdraw our research paper if Oxford University Press editors banned it. They didn't.

R N Thompson

Emeritus Professor of Geology

Department of Earth Sciences

Durham University