Letters: Dark days for our freedom

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 26 June, 2013

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The US’s pursuit of whistleblower Edward Snowden is shameful in the extreme. Government departments exist to assist and protect a nation’s citizens, but what we are witnessing from the US is a governing state acting as though it ruled the lives of those whom it ought to be seeking to represent, actually granting itself oversight of the minutiae of its people’s lives in a chilling mirror of Orwell’s dystopian vision.

And no wonder Snowden fears capture; Bradley Manning, the courageous young soldier who supplied Julian Assange with the WikiLeaks information regarding abuses conducted by the occupying troops in Iraq, has been treated in ways which no prisoner of war would endure under the Geneva Conventions: held in solitary confinement, forced to sleep naked and deprived of his prescription spectacles, leaving him practically blind.

These are dark days for democracy and freedom, as our fellow men are vilified, prosecuted and imprisoned merely for trying to alert us to acts being committed in our name.

Extradition treaty be damned, the UK ought to be standing up to the bullying US and offering political asylum. All around the world, we are seeing populations resisting the old political order; these are interesting times and history will judge harshly those who stand in the way of actual, not just perceived, freedom.

Julian Self

Milton Keynes

It is paradoxical that social democrats and socialists complain about the state snooping on our communication activity but believe the Government needs to control more of the economy, whereas more authoritarian-minded conservatives believe the state should be small in respect of economic activity but be able to snoop on us in the name of “security”.

James Paton

Billericay, Essex


Police check on Stephen Lawrence family

With all due respect to Stephen Lawrence and his family, perhaps the public should not overreact to claims that an undercover officer in the Metropolitan Police was asked to look for information that might discredit the Lawrences.

Unfortunately in one sense it is absolutely legitimate for the family to be screened. The public would have a right to know if, for example, Stephen Lawrence was actually an outspoken ruffian from a criminal family rather than a totally innocent victim from a good home. We’d have a right to know, not least because securing justice for this young man and those who loved him has already cost the state many millions over the last 20 years.

But there is an important distinction here, in that the officer concerned was asked to unearth information and not, thankfully, to concoct it.

Paul Dunwell

Alton, Hampshire


The idea that the police monitoring of the Lawrence family or checks on campaigners on police wrongdoing is some kind of aberration that took place only in the 1990s is historically ill-informed.

In fact the police have a history of spying on radical organisations and the left dating back to before Peterloo in 1819. There were police spies in the Chartists in the 1840s; the Communist Party, CND and others were watched in the 20th century. Little if any evidence of illegal activity was found, except of course that of the police spies themselves.

Keith Flett

London N17


The power to curb rubbish

We read that Monmouthshire County Council intends to impose tighter limits on domestic refuse collections. This well-meaning initiative will no doubt be followed by other authorities. 

The associated impact will be most strongly felt by householders who are largely powerless to influence the amount of seemingly useless packaging that accompanies practically everything they buy. An example is the box, 25cm square by 10cm deep containing a wrist watch, presented to me recently as a long-service award. Shrink-wrapped swedes are a less obvious, but just as ridiculous, waste of packaging.

The pain needs to be transferred to manufacturers and distributors, through tariffs and shaming publicity, if sensible persuasion fails. They have the real power to reduce the huge volumes of wasteful and expensive packaging littering our world.

Roger Blassberg

St Albans, Hertfordshire


Research fraud in drug tests

Your article “Exposed: the doctor whose faked drug test results proved fatal” (18 June) contains a number of serious inaccuracies.

In 2006 we published the results of a clinical trial in asthmatic patients with infliximab: a monoclonal antibody (mAB) from Centocor (now Janssen). The study involved 38 moderately severe asthmatics in a single centre, and there were no treatment-related adverse events. The clinical results of this study were processed in a double-blind manner by an independent statistician, and we have no evidence for manipulation of these data.

On the contrary, evidence for research fraud by Dr Edward Erin was only found in the handling of laboratory levels of sputum markers of inflammation, which had no bearing on the clinical conclusions of the study.

In parallel with our study, there was a larger international study. Your article states that “faked research partly contributed to the [Erin drug] trial being extended internationally”. However we can confirm that the international Wenzel study had started recruiting patients in 2004, before any results of the Erin study had become available. Hence, the conduct of the large international study was not influenced by the results of the smaller single-centre study.

Another untrue statement was that “Dr Edward Erin’s fabrications were not detected until he was arrested and jailed for six years”. In January 2008 Dr Trevor Hansel had serious concerns over some data presented by Dr Erin, and requested that another member of the research team should independently go back to Dr Erin’s data, prepare new graphs and repeat the statistical analysis.

In the meantime, Dr Erin was arrested on 14 February 2008, the research fraud was reported to Dr Hansel on 16 February, and the matter was immediately referred to appropriate authorities. Following detailed examination of all Dr Erin’s publications, appropriate retractions were then made.

Dr Trevor T Hansel

Professor Peter J Barnes

Dr Onn Min Kon

Imperial Clinical Respiratory Research Unit, London W2


Marvell, the  bard of Hull

In identifying the “stars” of the four cities shortlisted for the UK’s next City of Culture, you name few outstanding cultural figures who can be associated with Leicester, Swansea or Dundee (“Dylan Thomas takes on Philip Larkin in a battle of high culture”, 20 June).

In Hull’s case, you cite the poets Philip Larkin and Sir Andrew Motion, who are a very strong combination, but you omit to mention the greatest poet to be linked with that city, Andrew Marvell, who went to school there and served as its MP during some of the most turbulent times in our history.

None of the other contenders for the City of Culture title can match the star quality of the man who penned the lines “But at my back I always hear/ Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”. Andrew Marvell, who is generously commemorated in Hull, tips the balance significantly in Hull’s favour.

Professor David Head

Director of Innovative Partnerships, Vice Chancellor’s Office, University of Lincoln


Dilemma in the middle lane

Some of the correspondence about middle-lane drivers seems to be misunderstanding the main complaint, which is about drivers who drive at 50 or 60mph in the middle lane while the left-hand lane is empty, thus effectively turning a three-lane motorway into a two-lane motorway.

If one is driving in the left-hand lane at 60mph and there is a driver in the middle lane going at 50mph, is it illegal to “undertake” by continuing at 60mph in the left-hand lane, or should one pull out into the right-hand lane to overtake? The latter seems absurd.

Peter Calviou

Amersham, Buckinghamshire


A riot of vacuous Tory proposals

The “alternative Queen’s Speech” put forward by right-wing Tories (25 June) is just 40 pieces of displacement activity.

Vacuous MPs, who have no idea how to manage an economy, are creating a smoke screen of irrelevant activity to obscure the reality that the nation they were elected to govern is disintegrating around them. Much like rioters in the street, an increasing number of MPs waving their arms and shouting didn’t properly learn maths at school.

Martin London

Henllan, Denbighshire


Figure it out

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says (24 June): “The chances of a passenger dying in an airplane accident is one in 10 million; in our hospitals it is one in 300.” Is the aircraft figure per flight? Per year? Per lifetime? Does the hospital figure take account of the fact that many of us will ultimately succumb to a terminal illness in hospital through no fault of the NHS?

Bev Littlewood

Professor of Software Engineering, City University, London EC1


Misplaced love

While I do not in any way condone Jeremy Forrest’s behaviour – he betrayed the trust we all place in teachers on behalf of our children – it does seem to have been a loving relationship, though severely misplaced. How does his prison sentence equate with that given to Stuart Hall where there would appear to have been no affection, only his needs and much manipulation to meet them?

Marian Gooding

Petersfield, Hampshire



You have disappointed me. I love your newspaper and have bought it regularly since it was launched. However, in today’s edition you deemed it necessary to point out that Constance Briscoe is black (“Judge faces court over Huhne statements”, 25 June). Why? Is it relevant to the story? You didn’t make a point of stating that Chris Huhne was a white MP.

Trish Scott

Scarborough, North Yorkshire


I see you

I hear that the powers that be have got so safety-conscious (Tom Peck, 22 June) that staff at Hogwarts are making Harry Potter wear a high-visibility vest over his Cloak of Invisibility.

John O’Dwyer

Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire