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Letters: Digital Britain

Digital radio: the great unwanted revolution

I can understand why switching to digital television is useful, but I'm rather baffled by the Government's desire to make radio universally digital. By all accounts reception is only marginally better than FM, and as for being able to get chapter and verse and all sorts of other background info about the station and music being played – well, yippee!

On the downside several million analogue radio sets will become completely useless, including the several battery-run personal radios I use when out and about. And I understand that because converting the digital signal into an analogue signal requires a great deal more power, the battery life of small, personal radios will be very short indeed. So what is the point?

Patrick Powell

St Breward, Cornwall

As a keen radio listener I embraced the DAB revolution and have been using the new models but am thinking of moving back to good old FM. I am dismayed about the use of electricity that the new models require; batteries do not last long and if I plug them in the models send my meter spinning with the extra power required. Given that I, along with many others, have tried to cut back on energy use, why is the industry and Government forcing me to use more than is necessary?

The DAB reception is not perfect in my area. I have this annoying "popping", which is not uncommon on DAB radios. Hampshire is hardly in the "wilds".

Bob Booker

Alton, Hampshire

I used to think the television licence fee was iniquitous, but it's starting to look equitable compared to the £60-a-year levy on landlines to fund the rollout of superfast broadband. Just as those from whom £140 a year is extorted for a TV licence derive an ever-diminishing share of their viewing from the BBC, so those from whom £60 a year will be prised may never use the internet at all.

A moral argument could also be made for the television licence fee in the days when the BBC had no commercial rivals and the Reithian mission to educate, inform and entertain applied. In the age of Jonathan Ross no such argument can be made, and certainly not for universal internet access, which with its total absence of editorial and moral controls is as likely to be used to download jihadist beheadings as to raise the nation's cultural horizons.

But this government has never known the difference between private vice and public good.

Andrew Schofield

London SE17

The limits of what prison can do

Your thoughtful discussion of the Big Question "Are prison sentences too lenient and does the system need changing?" (17 June) refers to some shocking high-profile cases. Yet whatever we think these offenders deserve or what degree of punishment is adequate to express our repugnance at their crimes, it is most implausible to suppose that such offences can be prevented by changes to our system of sentencing. People who are so out of control or who can so dehumanise their victims are not going to be deterred by the remote prospect of a punishment that they never expect to befall them.

If the system is to be changed, it must be on the basis of a realistic understanding of what criminal justice can achieve in reducing crime. The relationship between crime and criminal justice can be instructively compared to the relationship between health and medicine. If we think about what makes people healthy, we will consider their environment: the quality of the air that they breathe, the water that they drink, the food they eat; their style of life; their avoidance of harmful circumstances.

Most of this is beyond the reach of medicine. This doesn't mean that medicine is unimportant. On the contrary, high-quality medical services are essential when people are ill or injured, and medical research has helped us to understand many of the elements of a healthy life.

Similarly, most of the factors that are known to be associated with offending are entirely beyond the reach of criminal justice. These include the influence of parents and carers, of school, as well as socio-economic factors, notably poverty and access to resources and opportunities.

Again, this does not mean that criminal justice is unimportant: on the contrary, trustworthy and effective criminal justice institutions can make a significant difference. But, just as it is entirely unrealistic to expect that medical services can make us well, so it is not reasonable to expect that criminal justice and sentencing practices can solve our problems of crime.

As an American jurist once put it, without a sensible recognition of the limits of criminal justice, we shall find ourselves "tempted to adopt barbarous measures out of disappointment, or foolish ones out of despair, simply because we fail to achieve what we have no right to hope for in the first place".

Rob Canton

Professor in Community and Criminal Justice, De Montfort University, Leicester

In "stripping" the Ministry of Justice statistics on re-offending of their "jargon", Dominic Lawson ("Our system of justice is not just rotten –it is lethal", 16 June) has also missed their point entirely.

Higher rates of re-offending among those serving shorter prison terms are not a justification to dole out longer and longer sentences, nor an "eloquent measure of prison's deterrent effect".

Six months in prison for a first, relatively minor offence can strip someone of their job, their home, their relationship and their friends. Despite any good intentions they have, their options for a crime-free life upon release are significantly diminished.

It is safer for everyone for such cases to be handled by the probation service in the form of a community sentence, as reoffending rates are known to be lower than for those serving custodial sentences. It would also help to tackle the problem of prison overcrowding, and therefore improve the prison service's capacity to effectively rehabilitate serious offenders.

Above all, prison should be reserved for those presenting a real and significant risk to the public.

Jackie Worrall

Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Nacro, the crime reduction charity, London SW8

Still, the culture of secrecy goes on

Much to the relief of successive British governments, we are a fairly mild nation who seldom riot, storm the House of Commons or bombard the Members of Parliament with rotten eggs. Perhaps it is a pity we do not have the fire of the French or Italians, who really let their governments know when they are displeased. Maybe our cool climate is responsible for our lack of temper when those in authority make decisions which quite clearly the majority of the citizens of this country find offensive.

The Government has announced that there is going to be an inquiry into the Iraq war, but it will be held in private. Why bother?

The Government has just released details of the expenses of all Members of Parliament since 2004, but not before censoring all items that might prove embarrassing. If it had not been for the details being leaked to a national newspaper, none of the cases of misuse of the public funds would have been revealed.

We fight wars overseas in the cause of freedom and democracy, while we remain the most governed and spied-on country in the EU.

Is it any wonder that Members of Parliament are held in such low esteem?

Colin Bower


Do you believe King or Darling?

During speeches at the Mansion House on Wednesday the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, spoke in complete opposition to Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, on the need for greater powers to allow it to fulfill its role in promoting financial stability.

Who do we listen to? The Chancellor, who has no qualifications in economics or finance? Or should it be Mervyn King, first-class honours in economics from Cambridge, 18 years as chief economist and executive director of the Bank of England, member of the Group of Thirty in Washington?

In the USA President Obama seems to agree wholeheartedly with Mervyn King and is putting legislation in place to give central banks authority over others, but our Chancellor does not see it as necessary.

If you required your central heating boiler to be serviced, would you employ your local gardener? Yet this seems the mentality towards government office. Never mind what you know or what your capabilities are, here's a nice little earner for being one of us.

Tom Baker

Glyn Ceiriog, Wrexham

Anti-Roma hatred comes to Belfast

I was surprised that your article (18 June) on the Belfast mob and the Romanians did not address a central issue: that these Romanians are from the Roma or gypsy community, perhaps the most severely discriminated-against minority group in Europe.

With the accession of Eastern European countries anti-Roma discrimination is now an issue in the heart of the EU. David McKittrick reports that these Romanians mainly work on the streets: a large part of the reason for this is their exclusion from mainstream employment. Anti-Roma prejudice should be taken as seriously as any other form of racism, yet is being mobilised for political advantage by the European far right, particularly in countries such as Romania and Bulgaria.

Calix Eden

Fabian Society, London sw1

'Satisfactory' is not good enough

I'm afraid Nicky Potts (letter, 15 June) will find little support for the use of "satisfactory" as the highest grading in any monitoring system.

Fifteen years ago, when working for the AQA exam boards, I attempted to introduce a system for monitoring assessors using the descriptors "Satisfactory", "Satisfactory but" (followed by details of areas where improvement was looked for), and "Unsatisfactory". "Satisfactory"was defined in terms of fully meeting all requirements in carrying out the assessor's duties.

However pressure from assessors led to the system being dropped and a return to the use of "very good" and "good" (whatever they mean).

Gordon Whitehead

Copt Hewick, North Yorkshire

Good manners to disabled people

My experiences of public reaction to disablement are very different from Simon Icke's (letter, 15 June). I too have been recently disabled, and have been through the wheelchair, Zimmer and two-sticks stages.

When my wife parked me outside a local shop, the shopkeeper would come out for a chat with me. Similarly in supermarkets check-out ladies have left their stations to come across and wish me luck.

I can now manage, with one stick, and am often faintly embarrassed when strangers notice me and patiently wait, holding a door for me. Far be it from me to disapprove of the folk of Buckinghamshire, but perhaps those in Nottinghamshire are better mannered.

Dave Pretty

Chilwell, Nottinghamshire


No fascism here

Another reason not to describe the BNP as fascist (letter, 17 June) is that nothing about them suggests that the trains would run on time.

Godfrey Marriott

Ware, Hertfordshire

Christian Zionists

One has to assume that Colin Nevin (letters, 17 June) is serious about his pride in the Christian Zionists parading in national costume through "the Holy City". Do they take in Gaza as well? I wonder what fancy dress Christ would wear were he to join their celebrations there.

John Airs


Terror clampdown

In Robert Verkaik's article "Stop and search: white people held to balance racial statistics" (18 June) a Home Office spokesman is quoted as saying: "As part of a structured anti-terrorist strategy, the powers [to stop and search] help to deter terrorist activity by creating a hostile environment for would-be terrorists to operate." It is now confirmed that this government believes the way to prevent terrorism is by threatening everybody. This explains an awful lot of recent legislation. We're all guilty.

R L Parsons

Little Wenlock, Shropshire

Where to start?

Lucy Hodges ("Go Dutch, save money", Education & Careers, 18 June) explains that "it takes less time to travel to Maastricht than it does to get to Edinburgh". Not from Scotland it doesn't – or from Newcastle, or York. Am I living in the wrong place for an Independent reader?

Phillip Mallett

School of English

University of St Andrews

Executive action

Obama swats fly in TV interview. There goes the Buddhist vote then.

Derek Brundish

Horsham, West Sussex