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Friday 14 September 2012
Letters: Despite Hillsborough, police cover-ups go on
According to the campaigning charity Inquest, since the Hillsborough disaster there have been 54 people shot dead by the police and 950 people have died in police custody.
The media are still every bit as enthusiastic about endorsing the police's denigration of those who die as they were then. Look at the cheerful dissemination of the untruths told by the police about Harry Stanley, Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, Mark Duggan and countless others.
And this is all compounded by a supposed supervision that systematically fails to bring the necessary questioning and sceptical viewpoint. Just as at Hillsborough, so in all these cases, the IPCC and the CPS habitually fail the grieving families who have to battle for years to get any sort of truth or justice, accountability or redress.
Well past time for a root and branch reform of this failing system.
The Hillsborough report shows that the corrupt and self-serving link between the police, the Government and the media goes back far, far further than the recent hacking scandal. What are the rest of us going to do about it?
It seems that many police officers involved in the Hillsborough disaster wrote honest and critical accounts of their experiences at the time, and that they were then pressured by senior officers to falsify their accounts. I would like to thank those junior officers for their attempt to tell the true story at the time.
May I stick my neck out and put in a word for the police at Hillsborough? The flood of media anger over the police authorities' attempts to hide any responsibility for the deaths seems to be aimed at the whole force.
At football matches I have been aware of the crowd of spectators as a living organism with a mind of its own, and have sometimes been frightened by it. I have often thought that I would not want to be a policeman when there is a hitch and those at the back are struggling to get in to the game. However good their preparations, a few policemen stuck among the crowd really have little power to control it. How do you say to 30,000 people, "Hold on a bit, folks"?
The actions of the police following the tragedy at Hillsborough were reprehensible, but they were also understandable. Football games at the time could be terrifying and anarchic places and events at Heysel and Bradford showed that a major disaster somewhere was inevitable. The most important positive outcome was all-seater stadiums, which have transformed the game.
The families of those killed and injured have every right to feel aggrieved by the subsequent clumsy attempts at a cover-up, but the blame for this tragedy goes much wider than the police, and the search for scapegoats will not necessarily serve the cause of justice.
As illustrated by Hillsborough, it is inevitable that where a culture of blame exists evidence will be suppressed or doctored. Inquiries come to the wrong conclusion and opportunities for remedial action are missed. Too often the adverse event will be repeated.
Human factors research has established that errors occur, especially in a crisis that individuals have not previously experienced. To progress, facts must be accepted without recrimination and lessons learnt and then taught in training courses.
I watched most of the TV coverage of the Prime Minister's comments on the Hillsborough disaster, followed by the latest report on the tragedy, both of which were handled with respect and sensitivity.
Once more I looked in vain for some reference to the other team present that day, and its thousands of supporters that were jammed into the away end, and held there by the police for more than an hour as the horror unfolded in front of us.
Not only were we denied permission to leave, we were not allowed to help; there must have been scores of off-duty medics, nurses and paramedics in the Nottingham Forest enclosure: all the authorities had to do was ask.
In view of the findings of the Hillsborough panel, which unequivocally justify the campaign of the families and their supporters over the past 23 years, I wonder how Boris Johnson now feels about his comments regarding "mawkish" Liverpudlians?
Libya's progress angers the extremists
I returned to Britain on Friday after six weeks in Libya, with a huge amount of optimism for the country's future, but that isn't to say that the tragic events in Benghazi, with the killing of the US ambassador, came as much of a surprise to me.
The potential for such a tragedy has been evident in the country since last year's revolution. A handful of security organisations, all with differing remits and answering to different ministries, has attempted to fill the law enforcement vacuum; none has had much success.
What has therefore been more noteworthy is the county's relative stability; the vast majority of Libyans have made a concerted effort to make their new democracy work, having endured 42 years of tyranny, and they have done so remarkably well so far, with far fewer outbreaks of violence than might have been expected in a country awash with weapons and fraught by tribal divisions.
Against this backdrop of unstable peace, extremists have grown frustrated as the country continues to take steps down the road to being a successful, moderate democracy. Last month Salafist militants destroyed Sufi shrines in Tripoli and Zliten, due to their disagreement with the Sufi tradition of housing tombs in their places of worship. This is where any anti-American argument of religious sensitivity reaches very shaky ground; such extremists have no tolerance for fellow Muslims peacefully practising different beliefs, but turn to murder when their own traditions are offended by a tiny minority in a far-away country.
What is most important is that President Obama's vow to bring the perpetrators to justice must translate into a commitment to help build a Libya in which this can never happen again, rather than a Bush-style vengeance mission.
I met the tall, smiley Chris Stevens very briefly last month, and anyone I've spoken to who knew him told of a striking but gentle man who was a passionate supporter of the Libyan people in their quest to build a better, safer, freer country.
The film and the murderous reaction to it were equally the works of dangerous extremists, and neither country will be able to move on from this tragic incident if they forget this. It is more important now than ever that America keeps the hand of friendship outstretched.
Exam system that hinders learning
The recent news that Ofqual has influenced the setting of grades for Edexel in the GCSE English exams has highlighted the dangers of political interference in our education system.
What is often not realised is that thousands of students will be disadvantaged in the coming years by political interference in the exam system. I refer to the change from modular courses to final end-of-course exams.
The modular system enabled students to be tested to GCSE standard regularly throughout the two-year course, to have those marks "banked" towards their final GCSE grade and have the chance, if they had not achieved their potential, to go back and study further to achieve a higher grade.
This was highly motivating and enabled pupils of average ability to see how they could improve their grades from an early stage in the course. I speak as a retired head of science who brought the modular system into my school, so I know the difference it made in both motivation and achievement.
The final exam system benefits only the more able student who can learn and retain a large amount of knowledge for a short time. It also benefits students whose parents can afford extra help at this critical time to push their children through this educational hoop.
No one has provided any sound educational reason for this change, Michael Gove talks vaguely about "deep knowledge", a term no one I know can define. I am both angry and sad that students who could achieve may not do so because of an adherence to an ideology from a government minister who seems to have little knowledge or understanding of how the average pupil learns in a real school.
Schizophrenia drugs do help
Professors John Read and Philip Thomas (letter, 10 September) need to live for a few months with families trying to support people with schizophrenia.
They obviously believe that it is easy to use talking therapies with very distressed people who, because of their schizophrenia, can be paranoid and think the voices in their head, telling them to harm themselves or others, are real.
As a former psychiatric nurse sent in many times during a crisis to help these distressed clients and worried families, I can see the real benefits of medication to dampen the symptoms of schizophrenia.
There is no cure for this debilitating illness. I acknowledge that talking therapies can also help people manage their symptoms, and therefore increase the possibility of reducing the medication to the minimum required. In my experience this is the aim of all psychiatric clinicians.
G4S takes over the world
I am so glad this government is looking to the admirable G4S to take on policing duties as well. This week my doorbell rang to the gas/electric meter reader on my doorstep, who, according to his shirt, is also employed by G4S. Although G4S doesn't as yet supply my power it seems they are insidiously moving into every sector of our lives.
Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex
More of the same
I have just spotted the first weekend line closures on the London Underground since the end of the Olympics and Paralympics (six of them, in fact). Good to know that things are getting back to normal.
Kingdom for a...
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