Letters: DNA database

The Stasi would have loved this DNA database
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The Independent Online

I visited Leipzig in the former German Democratic Republic about a year after the Berlin Wall came down. At the former headquarters of the town's Stasi was an exhibition devoted to exposing some of the excesses and idiocies of the former secret police apparatus.

Among the ludicrous excesses was a project to collect body odour samples on swatches of hessian. The purpose was to build up a database of body odour samples so that a room in which a meeting had taken place could be "swept" for odour and the participants in the meeting identified. We all sniggered at the preposterous project and felt that academics everywhere have a knack of extracting funding for far-fetched projects.

Of course nowadays we have the proven technology for DNA. Everyone leaves DNA traces behind them and our own government plans to compile a comprehensive database of samples. Am I paranoid or is the inference obvious – our masters will have the ability to determine who met whom in what room, and even who put a cross on a ballot paper?

John Davies

Shaftesbury, Dorset

From time to time your correspondents point out that the Government is erecting the structures of a police state. They mention the unprecedented surveillance, the proposals to invade our epistolary privacy, the erosion of the presumption of innocence, the imposition of identity cards, the retention of the DNA of the innocent.

The supporters of the last tell us that if we have nothing to hide we have nothing to fear. Chief among these is Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, a person who expected us to believe that her principal residence was a spare room in her sister's house. While agencies of general public good, such as universities, are going to be crippled by swingeing financial cutbacks, politicians see nothing amiss in their siphoning up as much public money on as many spurious pretences as possible.

If we are really going to be sold identity cards and the rest, their vendors need to be impeccable. They are not. The Augean stables would have had nothing on the condition of contemporary British politics. Is it conceivable that we, the generally honourable, decent and appalled public, can do nothing about this?

Michael Rosenthal

Banbury, Oxfordshire

According to your report of the Government's latest proposals (7 May), police will be able to retain records of innocent people for up to six years but in cases of serious violent or sexual crime the time limit would be extended to 12 years.

How are we to interpret this? If you are innocent of a non-violent crime they can only keep records for six years but if you are innocent of a serious crime they can keep records for 12 years? Is there anyone in charge with any comprehension of logic?

Terry Just

Oban, Argyll

MPs must learn the Enron lesson

It is of course tragic that MPs have blamed "the system" rather than acknowledging that the wrong is not in having a system that may be easily abused, but in the fact that so many have taken advantage of its weaknesses. However, that's human nature.

Since Enron, the commercial world was forced to hold a mirror up to its ugliest features. Boards of directors and trustee boards have been encouraged to invite non-executive directors into their number, and to have them predominate on audit and remuneration committees. A similar system of appointing legal and accountancy individuals and others who are members of regulated professions or otherwise noted for their propriety, would be of great benefit to the restoration of the integrity of Parliament.

This should be accompanied by a reordering of the second homes arrangement, whereby either the second home would be sold at the end of the politician's tenure and the money repaid to the state, which would benefit from garden improvements, wisteria clearance and any other refurbishment for which the public had generously shelled out; or alternatively the arrangement could allow provision of grace and favour flats purchased by the state near Westminster (in an enclave such as former military Barracks) into which the new political incumbent would move on being elected and from which they would depart on the end of their political career.

Margaret Casely-Hayford

Director of Legal Services, John Lewis Partnership, London SW3

Ramji Abinashi (letter, 11 May) asks for at least one MP to "have the guts to admit" that there has been a "blatant abuse" of the expenses system.

On 17 July last year, following a debate on these matters in the House of Commons, independent MP Dai Davies, for whom I do some research, submitted an early day motion (EDM number 2084).

It noted that 415 MPs have a mortgage the interest on which is paid from the public purse. It added that the "wholesale ownership of these properties is preferable but if this cannot be achieved then [MPs] should be allowed voluntarily to sign over their mortgages" to the ownership of the House of Commons, and that an allocation officer should then be appointed to "ensure that these nationally-owned properties are allocated on the basis of need".

This motion gained a total of three supporting MPs, all Labour: Jeremy Corbyn, David Drew, and Kelvin Hopkins.

Dr David Lowry

Stoneleigh, Surrey

The headline "Our task as MPs is to regain the trust of the electorate" over Norman Baker's comment (11 May ) misses the point. In 1983 only 18 per cent of the electorate said they could generally trust politicians to tell the truth, only just ahead of the 16 per cent who said they trusted government ministers to tell the truth. Over the twenty-five years since, the percentage has barely improved.

In Ipsos MORI's 2008 "Veracity Index", conducted for the Royal College of Physicians, we found that 21 per cent said they could trust politicians generally to tell the truth and 24 per cent said they could trust government ministers to tell the truth.

Politicians have a long way to go to reach the level of trust of judges, professors, teachers and doctors, all of whom are trusted by three out of four people or more.

Sir Robert Worcester

Founder, MORI

London SE1

The flurry of public apologies from MPs over the expenses revelations are a sham.

Many MPs have been robbing the taxpayer for years, and they seem to think we will respect them if they apologise. If they're so quick to tell us, now they have been caught, that they know the system is wrong, that implies they knew they were doing wrong all along, yet they failed to keep their hands out of the till. These hollow apologies are more likely to anger voters than to appease them.

Steve Masters

Reigate, Surrey

Politicians have achieved what many would have thought impossible: they've made members of the financial services sector look almost saintly by comparison.

Bankers rarely make any pretence about their business imperatives. They are here to maximise shareholders' profits and their own. Politicians , however, assure us that they are driven by a desire to do good by the public.

Richard Butterworth

London N13

Michael Martin's petulant public show of bad manners towards Kate Hoey and Norman Baker demeans the position of Speaker. Not only do his actions smack of a cover-up, but they also reveal a man who is desperately trying to ignore a public outrage greater than I can remember. He should resign, before he suffers a no-confidence vote.

Allan Friswell

Cowling, N Yorkshire

The Speaker's outburst made me wonder whether his constituents should not ignore the convention that nobody stands against him. Is Martin Bell doing anything next year?

Janet Tinbergen


A life worth living despite disability

Your report on Philip Nitschke ("Dr Death", 6 May) perpetuates simplistic stereotypes of how older people cope with disabling illness in later life. For example, the presence of dementia does not remove our essential humanity: the greatest threats to our dignity with such illnesses arise from the misperceptions of others, insensitivities in the care system, and stereotyping of illness. A typical example is the Royal Dutch Medical Association's use of the word ontluistering (removal of the light) for dementia, suggesting a lower level of being.

We should look to the piano concertos of Ravel (composed while he had fronto-temporal dementia), the late paintings of de Kooning (painted while affected with Alzheimer's disease) or the recent shared insights of Terry Pratchett as potent metaphors of a life worth living, while affected with barriers to clearness of thought and memory.

We need honesty about the need for more supportive and responsive palliative care, and more dialogue with, and empowerment of, patients. While recognising that we still have much work to do before we clear away apocalyptic and inhumane visions of ourselves should we develop serious illness in later life, it is in all our interests to understand that this is our common fate. Our current lives are supported by webs of co-dependency, and a society that opens its eyes to a wider and supportive vision of the experience of life with dementia and disabling illness is one that will truly be a society for all ages.

Professor Desmond O'Neill

Dept of Medical Gerontology

Trinity College Dublin

Royal Mail pays price of neglect

The latest political spin of our government is that the widespread opposition to the partial privatisation of the Royal Mail is acting as a dangerous deterrent to companies stepping forward to buy a stake in the postal service.

Isn't the biggest deterrent, however, the fact that when Royal Mail acted as an extremely profitable monopoly successive governments simply used it as a cash cow and so created a situation whereby the organisation requires a quite daunting amount of investment in order to compete with private courier companies?

I look forward to some of our senior politicians accepting some responsibility for the financial state of Royal Mail, but I suspect I may be in for a long wait.

Alan J Fisher

Finstock, Oxfordshire



The French are indeed holders of the 1900 Olympic cricket silver medal (letter, 12 May). The winners were England, but the team was made up of a touring team from Somerset. So Somerset are unique in the cricketing world as being the holders of the only Olympic gold medal awarded for cricket. We may have not won the county championship but are still the world's best.

Keith Sellick

London SW16

Kings of England

David Burton (letter, 11 May) in his attempt to prove the Royal Family is not English is rather selective. He states that George VI was German, but the king and both of his parents were born in England. It is true that he had some German ancestors, but he had ancestors of many other nationalities including, Mr Burton may surprised to learn, Anglo-Saxon. Perhaps the relevant point is that the last reigning monarch to be born outside England was George II, more than 300 years ago.

Peter Wotton

Longwick, Buckinghamshire

Corruption spreads

Since returning from some years living in Africa, I've grown bored with all the armchair commentators haughtily ascribing all the continent's health, social and economic problems to local corruption. Back in the UK meanwhile, the talk is all about banking crises, the "bonus culture" and MPs' expenses. Has somebody redefined corruption as something that only happens in developing countries, or is there denial and doublespeak going on here?

Dr Marko Kerac

University College London

Revolutionary text

Having been promoting The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists as the book by which to understand the recession, I was gratified to see it on the front of Independent Life (11 May), as a "must read" book of the year. The short description of the book on page three, however, was disappointing. Robert Noonan was a socialist, and he wrote the book to awaken the working classes to their misplaced philanthropy in giving all the products of their labour to the idle classes. It is an attack on capitalism.

Harold Curry

Barham, Kent

Dam-buster dog

With regard to the dilemma for film-makers arising out of Wing Commander Guy Gibson's inconveniently flippant naming of his dog "Nigger" (report, 7 May), it is somewhat ironic that Dr Goebbels came to refer to the USAF and RAF bomber crews as "phosphorus-throwing Anglo-American Negroids".

David F Davies