Letters: Crime and rights

Uphold the right not to be intimated by feral thugs
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The Independent Online

I share Howard Jacobson's anger and despair over the Pilkington case, Ofsted and child-minding ("There is nothing petty about the crime that led to Fiona Pilkington's death", 3 October).

I was a secondary school teacher for 30 years and seven years ago was involved in a minor incident in which I was accused, wrongly, of physically assaulting a boy of 11. The most disturbing part of the distressing episode was that his first reaction was to blurt out: "I'm going to sue you!"

The boy's acute awareness of what he perceived as his "rights" indicates how far the balance of power has shifted in the debate over discipline in society. The reaction of schools and local authorities in the face of outrageous behaviour is now based on fear – fear of being sued, fear of appearing too right-wing and disciplinarian, and for the citizen on the street, fear of being abused and attacked. The nonsense of the Ofsted strictures on the child-care arrangements of the two police officers is just such an example of fear-based correctness gone mad.

Every time society gives in to thuggish behaviour, every time society fails to confront abuse and intimidation, the thugs gain just a little more power. Every human being has rights, but those rights carry with them the responsibility not to trample on the rights of anybody else. Such thuggish behaviour is the ultimate selfishness, stemming from the denial of the concept of "society" and the harsh egocentricity of the Thatcher years.

We should be unafraid to uphold the human rights of children not to be abused, while being undaunted in proclaiming the rights of citizens not to be intimidated by feral youth.

Derek Watts

Lewes, East Sussex

A democratic vote for Europe?

The analysis of Bruce Anderson is right (5 October). The issue is about democracy, which the European Union is short on. The structure of the EU resembles far more the old politburos of the eastern bloc than it does liberal democracies such as exist in the UK.

What is being created in the EU is state capitalism in which a pan-European policy of a free and undistorted single market is written into the Lisbon treaty. A treaty or constitution should only set out the general principles by which an institution operates; policies should be decided by the democratic process.

There is no tolerance in the EU for dissent and this is demonstrated by the utter farce of the Irish "No" vote. It is worrying that the proposed new President of the EU will not be elected by the people.

The EU is like a runaway train and somebody needs to put the brakes on.

Lyn Atterbury

Szydlowo, Poland

No wonder Cameron is facing a revolt over Europe. Is there anyone who isn't dismayed at the way the Irish have been bullied, bribed and cajoled into voting "Yes" in the referendum re-run?

The EU has long planned these stages of gradual assimilation into a European superstate, and will brook no opposition. Those who think the EU can be reformed from within forget one crucial fact: the European philosophical belief is that the state knows best; in Britain the state exists to serve the individual.

British democracy can be slow and convoluted, but it has served us (and the world) well: it has fought off and defeated dictators and emperors. Now, once again, we must stand up and be counted, for the sake of all we hold dear.

Stephen Nash

Middle Barton, Oxfordshire

It may seem odd that as a passionate Europhile I now want us out of the EU.

The EU project simply has to succeed if Europe has any hope of surviving between the economic and political Goliaths of the USA and Asia, and the UK's potential lunacy simply cannot be allowed to obstruct that.

To your readers in mainland Europe I say: "Kick out the UK before it does any more damage. Have no truck with UK requests for favoured treatment. If you want the UK to be a full member, don't worry, it will be back, with its tail between its legs, begging for re-admittance."

As to those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, think on this: is your destiny with the ludicrously myopic England (as represented by the Conservative Party) or with the visionary EU? I know which I would choose, so go for it.

Christopher Yaxley


Not for the first time it has slipped the mind of the politically engaged that Britain has ceased to be a unitary state. Were a future Conservative government to grant a referendum, Scotland and Wales would in all probability vote not to revoke the treaty.

It would test inter-government relations were the British ratification of the treaty to be revoked solely on the grounds that England has the greater population.

Nor is it probable that the Scottish and Welsh governments would remain quiescent in the light of Westminster carrying out crucial foreign policy that clearly went against the wishes of their own citizens. Interesting times indeed.

Adam Somerset

Aberaeron, Ceredigion

An American friend was interested to hear that Tony Blair might have a chance of becoming the EU's first permanent president. She asked me when the election was going to be held, who the other candidates were, and what had happened in the primaries. All I could tell her, to my shame, was that the democratic process is different in Europe.

Manny Rayner


Just as Euroscepticism is not fixed to a single point of the political spectrum (Sholto Byrnes, 1 October), those who recognise the value of an international forum like the European Union in the global era span left, right and centre.

The EU may be an imperfect instrument, but it is a very necessary one as the challenges we face are increasingly cross- border. A UK government, of whichever political hue, cannot simply propose national solutions to global problems, but must increasingly look for international co-operation, whether on the economy, environment or energy security.

Roland Rudd

Chairman Business for New Europe, London EC2

Sholto Byrnes has a strange idea of democracy. The European Union has a population of about 470 million people. By various means the governments of the countries representing the majority of these people have approved the Lisbon treaty.

Ireland has a population of around four million and, last year, they rejected the treaty. According to the Byrnes logic a tiny minority can hold up the progress of the vast majority.

For this type of change to the running of the EU to be truly democratic, every member state should hold a referendum on the same day, but the Europe-wide result should be binding without reference to the national parliaments of the various states.

J W Wright

Calne, Wilts hire

What the Church of England does

Mary Wakefield (Comment, 25 September) asks, "What does the Church of England actually believe?" Finding there is no one answer to the question, she forecasts the C of E's "inevitable demise".

I went down to our parish church for a christening service. This village is home to the baby's grandparents; they are comfortable with the C of E, though one is a Roman Catholic and the other a Methodist. The rector welcomed them and the 60 or so young adults who had come to be with their friends for a religious celebration of the birth. Probably none of them was a regular churchgoer, but all joined in the affirmation: "This is our faith. We believe and trust in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." What did they think they meant by that?

The kind of monochrome, on-message church Mary Wakefield wants the C of E to be would, of course, tell them. I hope, instead, the baby will take the rest of his life to find out for himself, and that the sometimes chaotic, sometimes silly, C of E will always be there to help him.

Anthony Acton


Infantile gushing at the 'customer'

James Garrard's defence (letters, 28 September) of the cringe-making "Is everything all right?", as giving waiters an excuse to visit tables, amused me. Didn't they used to visit them at appropriate intervals without an excuse, just because that's what waiting is?

This idiotic US import embarrasses by its manufactured language, and by putting diners on the spot. It infantilises diners just as the artificial "Do you want 'cashback'?"and "Have you got a loyalty card?" infantilise shoppers. It's for the customer to be proactive in these cases, not the vendor.

The trend is also part of the new unctuousness disfiguring public services. Natural politeness has been replaced by formulaic gushing which is insulting because it aggressively promotes a Thatcherite social agenda which describes me not as a fully social being but as a "customer".



Jail policy set free at last?

At last, this government is free of any perceived obligation to pacify Sun readers. Jack Straw can now heave a sigh of relief and review his conclusion that "prison works"; for, with the highest rates of recidivism in Europe, it clearly does not.

Among his more restrictive decisions was his refusal to allow arts groups, including the Comedy School and the Arts Alliance, into prisons. Presumably this was in case raising prisoner morale might be construed by Sun readers as being soft on criminals. He still has six months to show a more rational attitude towards this and other aspects of custodial sentencing.

Christopher Martin

London W2

Winners from the Wapping dispute

A newspaper should be aware of its own history. In his absorbing interview with Sir Harold Evans (5 October), Ian Burrell writes that the Wapping dispute of 1986 "led to the birth of The Independent".

The plan to launch The Independent was announced by its three founders in the Financial Times on 27 December 1985, when £2m of capital had already been raised. The Murdoch papers' moonlight flit to Wapping came a month later. The principal benefit that The Independent derived from the dispute was that it facilitated the recruitment of journalists from The Times who felt bad about crossing the print unions' picket lines.



Poor outlook

So kids born today will reach their centenary in 2109, lucky people (report, 3 October). Has anyone the first clue what the temperature will be then, and whether there'll be anything for them to eat or drink?

Manda Scott

Clungunford, Shropshire

God of motor racing

Correspondents have commented on Lewis Hamilton attributing a race victory to God. One of the drivers with the successful BMC Works Rally Team in the early 1960s, using Austin Healeys and Mini Coopers, was the Rev Rupert Jones. Before the start of one Monte Carlo Rally someone spoke of praying to win. The Reverend replied: "No, you must pray that you will be worthy of winning." This surely is the most sportsmanlike and Christian approach.

Mervyn Pritchard


New radicals

I can reassure Anthony Pick (letter, 2 October) that the "post-Labour radical party" has already been formed. Indeed it was active over 30 years ago, when it was known as the Ecology Party. Its radicalism derives from recognising the inter-relationships between all aspects of our society, economy, and environment. The party may have changed its name to the Green Party, but its underlying philosophy remains as radical, and as relevant, as ever.

Stuart Davison

Harwell, Oxfordshire

Useful eccentric

Your travel article on Venezuela (3 October) couldn't resist making snide remarks about the "eccentric" President Chavez. Is it eccentric to spend Venezuela's oil wealth on ordinary people and improve their standard of living by reducing extreme poverty, reduce illiteracy to virtually nil, introduce pensions, and provide healthcare even in the poorest barrios? The contrast with typical Latin American regimes which siphon all the common wealth off for themselves and their cronies is obvious and explains why Chavez has won so many elections.

Mike Barnes

Watford, hertfordshire

Bad sign

My son came home yesterday from his primary school with a newsletter entitled "School Disco's". Should I be worried?

Andrew Lee-Hart

Wallasey, Cheshire