Letters: Allegations of harassment at abortion clinics

These letters appear in the 11 December issue of The Independent

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The decision by Yvette Cooper (Another Voice, 10 December) to support “Buffer Zones” around abortion clinics to prevent “harassment and intimidation” of women seeking abortions ignores the fact that “harassment and intimidation” is already illegal and the police have ample powers to deal with it should it occur.

The multi-million pound abortion industry makes frequent allegations of harassment and intimidation which are not supported by hard evidence. As a lawyer I have professional experience of this. I have advised pro-life prayer vigils which have been threatened with legal or police action regarding alleged harassment or intimidation. When the people who made the allegations were challenged to produce any evidence there was none.

The abortion industry is seeking to demonise peaceful and law-abiding protesters because some women are persuaded not to proceed with an abortion and instead seek the help and support that pro-life organisations offer. When that happens the abortion industry loses money, and that is the real reason they are seeking “buffer zones”.

Neil Addison

National Director, Thomas More Legal Centre, Liverpool


I was underwhelmed by the arguments of my Oxford contemporary Yvette Cooper. People are bound to be suspicious when the central question, “Are we talking about the ‘termination’ of a human being or not?”, is not even addressed.

If procedures are shocking, posters of them are bound to be shocking – that’s the fault of the procedure. And protesters are naturally going to film, so that their accusers can freely test the truth or otherwise of their many allegations.

Dr Christopher Shell

Hounslow, Middlesex


Yvette Cooper favours legislation to prevent “harassment and intimidation” of “staff on their way to work [who] have found themselves surrounded, filmed, and even prevented from entering premises”.

It is true that being “surrounded by a group of six protesters, barracking her and bombarding her with questions” could be “very distressing” for anyone and that “protesters have no idea what the personal circumstances are of those they are judging and harassing”.

Many would agree that staff should be “free from intimidation or abuse”.

When might we expect a Bill introducing “buffer zones” around relevant workplaces to prevent striking trade unionists from harassing those exercising their right to work?

John Fishley

London SE1


No judge of the modern workplace

Almost more shocking than the racial stereotyping implicit in Judge Terence Richard Peter Hollingworth’s remarks during the Preston procedural hearing (report, 8 December) was his lack of understanding of how difficult and stressful working-class life can be at the sharp end of employment. 

It is often the case that, even in one of the “unimportant” jobs he assumed was Ms Patel’s, a demanding employer, of which there are many, can make it very difficult for an employee to take time off at short notice.  The judge’s failure to appreciate this basic fact of modern life makes him unfit to practise his profession without a compulsory course of “back to the shop floor” life experience.

Rosy Leigh

London W3


BBC on the centre ground

You are right to argue that, by irking those on the left as much as it does our right-wing tabloids, the BBC occupies some political centre ground (editorial, 10 December). And it could well be that the Murdoch press’s beef with it is principally commercial, for Murdoch detests competition in a free-market economy. 

You could, though, have gone further; not least by pointing out that it’s  unedifying to witness a media group that hacks the phone of a murdered schoolgirl pretending to occupy a moral high ground. 

There is more. George Osborne, for whose extreme neoliberal politics very few voted, bridles at the perfectly defensible representation of his projected economic policies returning us to a version of Dickensian Britain. The inference is that the BBC should descend to the broadcasting of propaganda. 

The Sun and Mail are as utterly intolerant of the expression of political views other than their own, and this informs their own attacks on the BBC. Their abuse of their position to promote powerful vested interests has the potential to be very harmful to what little democracy we have in this country.

Michael Rosenthal

Banbury, Oxfordshire


Thought police nab a chatty scientist

I had the good fortune to be introduced to James Watson by my favourite physics teacher, Richard Feynman, when I was a young PhD student in X-ray crystallography. Feynman was almost as big a tease as Watson –  entertaining Cal Tech visitors in girlie bars – and I was assumed to be a fellow lunatic.

Watson sent up any pompous git who crossed his path, and there were plenty of those in the groves of academe, but his teasing could sometimes verge on perilous territory.

In the end Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe, a former student, did for him by writing up some chatty suggestions that race and intelligence might be linked (“A human riddle wrapped in a DNA double helix”, 6 December).

Since science has no agreed-upon definition of “race” or “intelligence” he was hardly making a serious statement, but in today’s fetid atmosphere the thought-police at last had their man.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews


Food giant’s abuse of power

The actions of Premier Foods as revealed in the Newsnight investigation into “pay and stay” payments are dispiriting and morally questionable.

All local and independent suppliers are small or at best medium-sized businesses. Premier Foods is not. To use its superior market position in this manner is an abuse of power, if not in law, then in spirit.

Agriculture and the food supply chain are fragile enough in this country at a time when this sector is going to be asked to produce a lot more with less, as well as maintaining  our countryside for everyone’s benefit.

Buying from local producers and farmers is not just an act of convenience for large corporations or a fad for middle-class foodies but an investment in the secure future of this country’s food supply and agriculture. Premier Foods and its like can come and go according to the whims of its investors and shareholders. Farmers cannot and must not.

Ed Martin

Hadlow, Kent


I am surprised that you quote a retail expert (6 December) as saying that the conduct of Premier Foods in requiring supplier payments to retain their status is lawful. I thought that the abuse of a dominant market position was a fundamental breach of EU anti-trust law.

Philip Goldenberg

Woking, Surrey


The purpose of bouncers

Ramji Abinashi is mistaken when he says that bouncers in cricket are intended to hurt (letter, 8 December). They are primarily used, sparingly and within the laws, to get a batsman out by exposing any weakness in technique – such as giving a catch through an inability to keep the ball down, or failure to protect his wicket when facing subsequent deliveries. 

The freak accident which brought about the death of Phil Hughes would not have been prevented by a red card system; though cricket lovers everywhere will now expect existing laws governing intimidatory bowling to be enforced consistently and at all levels of ability.

Malcolm Watson

Welford, Berkshire


No right to free IVF

Knowing as I do the pain of being unable to father children you may be surprised that I wholeheartedly agree with Margaret Morrison and Colin Howson’s views on IVF being available for free on the NHS (letter, 10 December).

Infertility is not a disease, nor are children an essential part of an otherwise healthy adult’s life in an already overpopulated world. It wouldn’t be a vote-winner but I strongly feel the Government should abolish free IVF, which would ease the burden a little on an apparently overstretched NHS.

Name and Address Supplied


Christmas spirit of money-making

Three normal Christmas cards – two to Ireland, one to Canada – £4.59 in postage. Scrooge is alive and well and has taken over the Royal Mail. I pity the poor souls running the individual post offices who are seeing their business rapidly being priced out of the market.

Ian Bartlett

East Molesey, Surrey