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Saturday 5 June 2010
Letters: Cumbria shootings
Media trauma after shootings
A child is heard retelling the moments when a man is killed in front of his eyes; a doctor nears tears as he tells of a routine day off transformed into a horror story. When people who have just witnessed a traumatising event, such as the inhabitants of Whitehaven, are asked "how they feel" by reporters, I experience deep misgivings.
I recognise the justified desire of the public to be kept informed about events. However, I believe it is unnecessary and potentially harmful to witness, interviewer and listener to be force-fed the graphic details of such a tragedy. That is not emotional sensitivity, but the worst kind of emotional incontinence. It is not merely a matter of taste, which is in itself a valid argument. There is plenty of research to show that the vicarious and uncontrolled experience of traumatic events traumatises the audience.
When media access to such events is so prolific and intrusive, a prurient media risks traumatising us all. It is not enough for the media to tell us to turn off the TV or leave the newspaper closed, for these images are splashed everywhere we look. I remember nine years ago feeling the horror as television showed endless repeats of the Twin Towers attacks, and I remember trying to protect my young children from its impact.
Time and again we have seen the same kind of things happening, and we risk the low-level traumatisation of a whole generation of children which will damage their chances of adapting to the world in a healthy way, not to mention the population as a whole.
How do I feel? Intruded upon and abused, and wishing it would stop.
Is it impossible to persuade the media not to use the hideously inappropriate word "spree" for the recent horrific events in Whitehaven? My dictionary defines spree as "a lively frolic".
I have no wish to denigrate Cumbria police, who faced an appalling task in the fluid situation on Wednesday, but I feel that an opportunity was missed to apprehend Derrick Bird sooner.
I am baffled as to why, when it became clear that a gunman was on the loose in west Cumbria, the A595 was not closed at Calderbridge, where the narrow bridge is the only passable route north-south in the entire west of the county. Control of this choke point so close to the Sellafield nuclear plant should surely be essential in any emergency plan, whether to keep the road open for emergency services or to close it to terrorists or anyone else with malign intent. It could have been done very quickly by armed officers from Sellafield, a couple of minutes' drive away.
It is possible that the killer would have turned around at this roadblock, but he would have turned into the path of the pursuing police. Nearly half the victims were shot after Bird had passed Calderbridge and was back into more open country with a choice of routes to confuse his pursuers.
We cannot bring back the victims of this incident, but lessons should be learnt for future emergency planning.
We restrict doctors' prescription pads to trained professionals because they are dangerous in the wrong hands. Guns should be seen in the same way. Allowing a taxi driver and petty criminal to own a .22 rifle and a shotgun, essentially because he wanted to, was legal – and it shouldn't have been.
No planning for BP oil spill
At last BP management has admitted what has been painfully obvious for the past few weeks, namely that BP (and the rest of the industry) had no contingency plans to deal with an accidental release of oil from a deep-sea drilling rig, in spite of the easily predicted costs such an accident might entail.
Only a few weeks ago the European airline industry was grounded by the ash emitted from the Icelandic volcano, losing in the UK alone something in the order of £1bn. It was evident that there were no contingency plans for such events, despite the fact that the industry's regulators had raised the problem several times.
The ramifications go well beyond the private sector, as the financial crisis so clearly demonstrated when banks needed to be taken into public ownership to protect the national economy.
It should not be forgotten that the now infamous public sector salaries are paid to attract just these private sector managers into the public sector, so potentially exacerbating the contagion.
Perhaps instead of emphasising sophisticated management theories, business school curricula should include a compulsory module on common sense.
Oil wells at sea have failed in the past, and the effects are too great for this to continue. It may be that the BP leak will be solved only by a relief well, after months of drilling. Should not all deep-sea wells be required to have secondary relief wells bored at the outset and capped until needed?
R W Standing
East Preston, West Sussex
The limits of human rights
Geoffrey Robertson (Tuesday Essay, 1 June ), discusses the "serious defects" of the Human Rights Act 1998. He points out that it is astonishing that the Act says nothing about the rights of children or the physically or mentally disabled and that it is silent on the subject of social and economic rights.
It is rare for English human-rights lawyers to comment on the Western European obsession with individual civil human rights at the expense of collective social and economic rights. English academics have even argued that such rights do not qualify as human rights.
This can be contrasted, for example, with the position in South Africa, where the constitution sets out a number of social and economic rights, for example the right to adequate housing and health care. These have been discussed in detail in the South African Constitutional Court.
As a Baghdad taxi driver is reported to have commented, you can't eat and drink freedom of speech and it doesn't produce regular electricity and clean water.
While it is true that the European Convention on Human Rights doesn't specifically mention the rights of children or those who are disabled , the Human Rights Act, in incorporating the ECHR, extended rights protection to all human beings in the UK and the rights of such groups have been protected.
For example, the HRA has safeguarded due process for mental health detainees, required "lifting policies" to consider the dignity of disabled people as well as the health and safety of care workers and overturned the regime for physically restraining young people in custody, to name just a few of many examples.
It is, of course, possible to have a better bill of rights which includes additional rights to supplement those in the HRA, as Mr Robertson suggests, but as most of the pressure for a "British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" comes from those who wish to repeal the HRA because they view it as too effective, is it realistic to suggest its replacement will be stronger, not weaker?
Human Rights Futures Project, London School of Economics
Don't laugh at the pain of rats
I was sickened by the levity of your leading article (4 June) relating to the development by scientists of a means of rendering rats fearless, and hope that this, and the article to which it relates, disabuses any member of the public who assumes that laboratory animals do not suffer in medical research.
That anybody could even consider applying even light electric shocks to animals which lead them to have paralysing feelings of dread is beyond belief. These creatures clearly feel pain and associated psychological anguish, and I believe that their ability to do so should carry equal weight with ours.
In the words of Mark Twain: "I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race. The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further."
Objects of hate
The new coalition government has rendered the right wing of the Conservative party impotent and at the same time made New Labour irrelevant, so it is no wonder, as Simon Carr said (3 June), that both Labour and Tories have joined up to hate the Liberal Democrats.
Paying for EU
John Naylor (letter, 26 May) claims that Britain is the second biggest contributor to the EU budget. The figure is unjust and totally incorrect. According to the European commission, the UK is the sixth largest contributor.
Perspectives on the Middle East
Blair's 'concern' for one side
You report that our ex-Prime Minister "stressed more than once that the world needed to understand Israel's deep-seated security concerns and the fact that Gilad Shalit, who has been held for almost four years by Gaza militants, was a 'huge issue' for the Israeli public" (interview, 4 June).
The Palestinian people suffering under Israel's illegal military occupation also have very real "security concerns", never knowing when next their homes and livelihoods will be attacked by Israeli bombs, tanks and soldiers. They also have a "huge issue" with the fact that Israel holds around 8,000 Palestinian men, women and children in jail, many without charge, many arrested simply for being elected to the Palestinian parliament in democratic elections demanded by Messrs Bush and Blair.
Palestinian resistance to such oppression is called "terrorism" by Blair and his Zionist cronies; Israeli actions which break international laws and conventions have to be "understood". Who takes this man seriously?
Senior Editor, Middle East Monitor, London NW10
In all the crises concerning Israel and its neighbours, Middle East "peace" envoy Tony Blair and his efforts for peace have been remarkably absent.
He did nothing to halt Israel's assault on Lebanon which left 1,500 dead and a million displaced, only voicing "regret" after the damage was done. He did nothing to halt Israel's assault on Gaza (nearly another 1,500 dead), only daring to place his dainty toe on Gaza's soil after it and its people had been brutally flattened, burned, obliterated. And he did nothing to challenge Israel over its murderous piratical raid on the Gaza flotilla in international waters.
Only now does Tony Blair call for "an easing of the blockade". He will not even call for what is really needed – a lifting of this illegal inhumane blockade. He wants a strategy for Gaza which "isolates the extremists and helps the people". When will Blair and his like have the courage to face this uncomfortable truth – that it is the isolation of Gaza that creates extremists. But then, Israel needs the world to see Palestinians as extremists.
Buckland Newton, Dorset
Victims of spin
It is worrying to note how obliging the UK media and Government have been in adopting the language of Israel's spin-masters. We read in The Independent for example that peace activists forcibly taken to Israel are to be "expelled", while the BBC and our Foreign Secretary William Hague talk about them being "deported".
Since the activists are the victims of piracy and kidnap in international waters, did not break any laws, and never had any desire to enter Israel, surely they are being "freed" or "released" from illegal captivity, not expelled or deported.
Land of brothers
The events in the sea off the coast of Gaza highlight the need for a permanent solution in the region. Surely the foundation of a single state for Israelis and Palestinians living together in harmony has to be now considered.
On a recent visit to Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem I made no secret of my Jewishness. I referred to Palestinians I met as my cousins; they replied, "No, you are my brother."
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