On 1 October, my nephew, Gordon, will be 40, and has suffered schizophrenia for 20 of these years. His sister, Pam, at 38 has clocked up 18 years ("My son the schizophrenic", front page, 11 September). They live at home with my sister, 71 and their father, 72, who, after years of illness, recently underwent a quad heart bypass operation. They all survive as a result of my sister's strength of character.
After various attempts to work with the local hospitals in the early years, she gave up after repeatedly finding that Gordon had disappeared from his "secure" ward, and she spent many hours in police cars searching cold and rainswept streets.
She helped Pam attend college and later found her part-time work for a while in the kitchens of a private school. But Pam's talk of being followd by dragons and seeing strange creatures forced my sister to bring her home for good. Pam went to a weekly club meeting for a while and has a boyfriend who calls every few weeks. But her deeper frustrations appear when out, seeing babies, venting her anger, realising the loss of a normal life.
The Cockburn family experience is similar to many which have appeared in print from articulate middle-class families where parents are able to provide care and at the same time have their careers. My sister gave up a career in nursing to devote herself entirely to her family. She is among many less fortunate mothers who, after spending what savings they have, become totally dependent on the state and face many years of interrogation to justify the meagre support of means-tested benefits.
The Independent would serve our community better by raising the neglect by successive governments for the mentally ill, since Enoch Powell first acknowledged the need for proper care in the community as the asylums were being demolished.
Police shootings causing concern
In Britain, very little policing involves officers with guns and even less involves them shooting people. The problem is that of that tiny number, so many are manifestly contentious.
The failure to make effective assessment of the options when faced with people whose mental health is manifestly disturbed, such as Derek Bennett, Michael Malsbury and Mark Saunders in the Metropolitan Police's area alone, gives rise to repeated concern. The failure to assess fatally wrong intelligence, as in the Harry Stanley and Jean Charles de Menezes cases, is a similar running theme.
The present spineless combination of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service, who both have day-to-day contact with the police, results in scant enthusiasm for holding forces to account for mistaken killings. Indeed, it can result in practices beyond parody, such as using health and safety legislation to handle the aftermath of the Stockwell shooting.
The only other process is the inquest, which is held under archaic rules and within constricting limits. Though one innovation has been made. Police marksmen can, and do, give evidence under the cloak of anonymity. The failure of police authorities and the Home Office to impose the accountability they are supposed to represent is commonplace.
It is time that the proposal from the campaigning group Inquest for a standing commission on deaths in custody, with its own independence and its own commitment to policing the police, be implemented to replace the hotchpotch of broken-backed and toothless watchdogs whose protracted and overlapping procedures fail time after time to achieve truth and justice for bereaved families, or accountability by the police to the public they supposedly serve.
Matthew Norman's comment (11 September) mis-states the position of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is entirely incorrect to state as he does, that the IPCC "allowed the Met eight days grace" before starting our inquiry.
This claim was in fact withdrawn by Mark Saunders's family. Our independent investigation began within hours of the incident. Its principal objective is to determine whether the police use of lethal force was necessary. We have made clear that the officers made their notes in accordance with an accepted practice which we have repeatedly stated should be changed, but which we do not believe we have the power unilaterally to change.
Should the court determine we have the power, we will be happy to exercise it. Of course, the Saunders family will have questions about the investigation, and rightly so. There is, however, an ongoing investigation which will be made public at an appropriate time, when all the evidence will be aired before a jury. Those who prejudge this incident would do well to wait until then.
Commissioner, Independent Police Complaints Commission, London WC1
A judicial inquiry is considering whether police officers acted lawfully in shooting Mark Saunders. There is a fundamental question which appears not to have been addressed in the four months since Mr Saunders' tragic death. Why, and by whom, was authority granted for anyone, however reputable, to store a firearm and ammunition together at a central London address?
It may have been a reasonable decision that it was safer for the shotgun to be held at Mr Saunders' main residence than at a second home; there is no plausible reason why ammunition should have been stored there and not separately, wherever Mr Saunders had legitimate occasion to use the shotgun.
It is sad that Mr Saunders died; it is a happy accident that no one else did. After the Hungerford killings, civilian ownership of military-style weapons was prohibited; after the mass murder at Dunblane, handguns were withdrawn from circulation.
Although it would probably be excessive (and impracticable) to respond to this incident by banning all ownership of shotguns for recreational use, there is a compelling argument for a ban on storage of weapons and ammunition together in an urban location.
GM crops are not good for Africa
David King's contention that GM crops could help solve food shortages in Africa ("Africa needs GM food, says top scientist", 8 September) is in sharp contradiction to the views expressed in an important document that the British Government signed up to this year.
The Synthesis Report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development is the agricultural equivalent of an assessment from the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
It concluded that, "information [on the impact of GM] is anecdotal and contradictory, which has led to uncertainty about the possible benefits and damage". Christian Aid, along with other NGOs, has further concerns too. We don't want poor farmers to become any more reliant on expensive, often imported inputs, such as GM seed, chemical fertilizer and pesticides when our experience is that they can boost their incomes and supply better, cheaper food to their immediate communities if they focus on using organic fertiliser and seed developed for their local conditions.
The highest productivity per acre comes from smaller farms. For Africa to be able to feed itself, there must be reforms to support small-scale food producers. These include investment, market development and improved infrastructure, and the abandoning of misplaced trade liberalisation policies forced on many countries.
Christian Aid, London SE1
Hirst's work can't becompared to Bacon
Janet Street-Porter (11 September) should realise there are quite a few of us not convinced by Damien Hirst. She refers to his work in artspeak as "provocative", "infuriating" and "challenging".
Come off it; you're not really shocked or provoked, are you? Most of what I've seen of his work is banal and adolescent, and it is just marketed as "shocking" or "stimulating".
Comparison to Bacon is absurd. Bacon's work is complex: tragedy and humour, the mundane and the operatic, the trivial and the cataclysmic all operating together, acting "on the nervous system" in shocking (yes) moments of what? Recognition.
So Hirst deals with the issue of mortality, but his intimations of mortality are similar to those of the child who pulls the wings off flies. Not personal mortality, but that of the voyeur. And worse, it veers towards the facile and predictable. The diamond skull: money and mortality, geddit? Yes, we do, and quite quickly.
Class still rules in Brown's Britain
Harriet Harman states a well-documented truth in implying that class is still a huge determinant of life chances, educational achievement, good health and everything that flows from them. Your own view (leading article, 11 September) that the battle has been won, leaving only the problems of an "underclass" is disingenuous.
After years of economic growth, social inequalities have deepened to obscene proportions because the benefits of growth have been distributed through the mechanisms of a largely unregulated market. In 1997, Labour was given an opportunity to build on the electorate's clear rejection of Thatcherite ideology. It blew it, proclaiming instead the opportunities provided by globalisation and Brown's brilliant management of the economy.
Now the free market has shown again that it follows its own laws, regardless. This offers Labour a second chance to assert the need for regulatory and interventionist policies to limit the power of corporate capital, accompanied by truly egalitarian measures. But it has for so long sung the wrong tune one doubts that anyone will listen.
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
If, as you claim, class doesn't matter any more, perhaps someone should tell the Tory party. David Cameron has surrounded himself with fellow Etonians, ex-pupils of St Paul's and Winchester and a host of others from privileged backgrounds. So it seems that "an individual's accent" and the "reputation of their alma mater" do matter very much in the "new" Conservative Party.
EAST HORSLEY, SURREY
Judging the worth of a newspaper
Your decision to increase your cover price by 25 per cent is wrong. After agonising over whether I could find an extra £50 a year out of my pension, I decided to stick with you and to support your admirable unbiased reporting. But many people will not. We don't need more colour and fancy layouts. We need accurate reporting and independent comment. Please remember where your core support is.
After the 25 per cent rise in the cost of The Independent, I look forward to your next editorial insisting public sector pay rises should be no more than 2 per cent.
You point out that The Independent still costs less than half the price of a cappuccino. In the real world, we regard the price of a cappuccino as a rip-off.
We'll drink to that
In the light of yet another bank collapsing, perhaps everyone outside the industry should toast bankers' future prosperity and health. I would suggest that Campari be the suitable drink. For anyone like myself who learned the "canons of good lending", Campari will also be remembered as being an acronym meaning Character, Ability, Means, Purpose, Amount, Repayment and Interest (and Insurance). All lending decisions were considered using these attributes. Perhaps, it is time to dust down this more measured approach to risk assessment.
Admittedly, the banking collapse has come five years later than predicted. But fellow members of the Kondratieff Cycle Society will be feeling a great sense of relief.
A bad omen for Gordon Brown is that since before the Second World War, Britain has never elected a Prime Minister with a non-English accent. Tony Blair was Scots-born but had adopted a very English accent. One reason that Labour surprisingly failed to win the 1992 general election was possible public aversion to the Welsh tones of Neil Kinnock. Labour needs to act over its leadership before history repeats itself.
Leighton Buzzard Bedfordshire
The tiny rump of plotting Labour MPs who are self-indulgently feeding the Tory media with their shameful attacks on Gordon Brown are not representative of the wider membership of the Labour party. Many of us view their actions with complete disdain.
Brought to book
Further to David Foster's letter (9 September) on apostrophe misuse: I am two-thirds of the way through Ian Kelly's biography of Casanova (published by Hodder and Stoughton) and already I have come across two examples of redundant apostrophes: it's instead of its. Heads should roll.
Gone, but not forgotten
On the front page of The Independent (15 September), "Today: consummation Tomorrow: marriage". In my younger days, it was certainly the other way round.
HAILSHAM, EAST SUSSEX