Letters: Drug prohibition

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The Independent Online

Our son was one of many doomed by stupid drug prohibition

Sir: The word despair is scarcely adequate to describe our feelings in the face of the unshakable stupidity of public policy on drugs. Sane columnists such as Johann Hari (Opinion, 23 November) periodically remind us of its depths, as do public figures including police officers.

The number and variety of drugs in common use constantly increases, the number of addicts augments relentlessly. The age at which children begin experimenting with drugs keeps falling. The number of failed government control initiatives and of police and judiciary interventions continues to swell. The costs of prevention and punishment grow relentlessly. The masters of the drug trade go largely unpunished. It must surely be obvious to everyone that the criminalisation of drug use has failed.

We lost our eldest son three years ago; he died of system failure after an adult lifetime of the use of illegal drugs. He picked up a criminal record in his late teens for possession of a small quantity of cannabis. He thus became virtually unemployable. Inevitably, his habit ensured he continued to behave illegally and to associate with other outlaws. We believe he had access to drugs while in prison (for deception and petty theft).

He tried rehab a couple of times, but drug addiction is a relapsing illness, and although the supporting services are staffed by excellent people, there are simply nowhere near enough resources to ensure more than a low success rate.

We believe that the history of our son, and of many more like him, could have been different if all drugs were again legal. Of course, there is the risk that addiction would grow. But the huge resources saved could be devoted to education and treatment of needs arising from all drugs, including alcohol.

The benefits are obvious. The path to change is not. We shall not see common sense prevail in our lifetime. For once, pessimism is justified.



Gift of a cow gives Africans a hand up

Sir: As a veterinary surgeon and supporter of some of the animal gifts that Andrew Tyler describes in his article "Don't follow the herd and give a cow for Christmas" (27 November) I was shocked by his views. He shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the difference between livestock farming in the third world and in the west.

These charities are not setting up intensive dairy farms with high water requirements and high milk outputs in areas of potential drought. They are supporting local systems where the livestock frequently graze the vegetation that is inedible to humans, turning these resources into food. Whilst vegetarianism is a more efficient use of the land space it does not always provide year-round food, does not always fit in with local traditions and is itself susceptible to crop failures.

He seems to think that these charities actually send the depicted animals out to Africa. Many of these charities' schemes are notional and used to promote donation to a greater cause rather than to specifically send animals to for instance the Horn of Africa. May I urge readers not to boycott these third world charities as their needs are so much greater than ours will ever be.



Sir: Andrew Tyler is incorrect that cows only serve to increase poverty. Cows are highly efficient converters of grass and crop residues into milk, meat and manure. Their manure can be used to revitalise nutrient-depleted soils and thereby to increase the amount of crops grown, leading to more staple foods, vegetables and fruit. Compost made from the manure improves the water-holding capabilities of the soil, which helps farmers to overcome the effects of drought and ensure food security throughout the year.

Cows are well suited to some parts of Africa which receive sufficient rainfall and where there is ready access to water. Send a Cow always provides appropriate assistance and in dryer areas this will be goats, bees or kitchen gardens using household waste water and compost. Send a Cow's approach is to work with farmer groups that have applied for assistance and to train and prepare these groups in sustainable farming and animal husbandry.

Where livestock are provided, animals are zero-grazed, which means they are kept in airy, light shelters and yards, with fodder being cut and brought to them. This enables manure and urine to be collected for the benefit of the rest of the farm and it ensures no environmental damage is done to soils. We insist on high standards of animal wellbeing.

Our approach is based on a sustainable whole farming system not reliant on inorganic fertilisers and chemicals but rather utilising the natural produce of a mixed farm. As a result we have helped thousands of families to lift themselves out of poverty for good as their rejuvenated farms provide food and livelihood security. And farmers pass on the gift by passing on young stock to other needy farmers, so the benefits spread through the community. Our approach provides a hand up rather than a hand out.



Trident puts nuclear treaty in peril

Sir: Your editorial on Trident (27 November) claims that Britain cannot use its nuclear weapons without the approval of the United States. This would be comforting if true, since the need for American approval could stop the UK unleashing a holocaust. But in fact there is no evidence that it's true: see, for example, Commodore Tim Hare's authoritative denial at the Commons Defence Committee, 28 March 2006. The argument that the UK's independent nuclear deterrent is not actually independent is no help to the cause of disarmament.

A better argument against replacement is that to retain Trident is to abandon the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Without the Treaty, the nuclear weapon states will either have to enforce global nuclear apartheid or accept every state's right to bear nuclear arms. The first option will be untenable; the latter disastrous. Disarmament, coupled with a diplomatic initiative for others to do likewise, is in the world's - and therefore the UK's - best interests.



Sir: Jim McCluskey and Stephen Marshall miss the point when they question the purpose of upgrading Trident (Letters, 29 November). All nuclear weapons are cruel and astonishingly devastating weapons systems. They are armageddon weapons. That, quite simply, is their point.

By possessing Trident Britain shows any aggressor that an attack (or the credible threat of an attack) on the UK will be punished by vicious retribution and total destruction. As long as potential aggressors believe that this is a reasonable possibility they will be deterred from attacking.

Surely in this age when the world remains unstable, and states such as Iran and North Korea (and possibly others) are not only seeking to be nuclear-capable but are also seeking to acquire missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons, any British government would be reckless to abandon the UK's independent nuclear arsenal.



Dawkins and an intelligent god

Sir: It's hard to believe that Dr Milton Wainwright (Letters, 28 November) has read any of Richard Dawkins' detailed demolitions of Hoyle's arguments, but even if Hoyle were right, this so-called creative intelligence would not be the kind of god people want to pray to, and couldn't be a guide to ethics or morality.

Wainwright didn't equate this hypothesised entity with a Christian or any other god, but if people took this inference, he would have to explain to them why this pitilessly indifferent abstraction has given so much evidence that it's a bad rather than a good one.

But anyway, what's so intelligent about the criss-cross design of the human trachea and oesophagus, our problematic inside-out retinas or our dodgy backs, to name just a few of the many legacies of our evolutionary history?



Sir: Ultimately Professor Richard Dawkins' philosophical position is as unscientific as those who promote "intelligent design" ("Dawkins takes fight against religion into the classroom", 27 November).

For science to work we scientists use a principle that "There is no privileged observer". This means that I can perform the same experiment and observations on earth, on Mars, or close to a star many millions of light years away, and get the same result. It also means that myself, a Muslim, a Hindu and Professor Dawkins can perform the same experiment and get the same results. We would all measure light to travel at slightly less than three hundred million meters per second. Science cares not a whit whether I or Professor Dawkins believes or not in God.



Sir: I teach science in secondary school. I have the "truthinscience" DVDs, which promote "intelligent design". Not only will I keep them, but I will use them: they offer a truly superb case study of bad science. In science, nothing is ever a waste of time - it can always serve as a bad example.



Anti-lawyer spin over legal aid

Sir: In your analysis of the Government's legal aid reforms (29 November) you claimed that ministers privately contend that lawyers have become more creative at milking the system and that hourly fees encourage them to string cases out.

But where is the evidence? Judges, the Legal Services Commission, and the solicitors' regulator would take swift and robust action against any solicitors doing this. In the absence of any such evidence this is yet another example of anti-lawyer spin. The Government should focus on improving its legal aid reforms to create a sustainable future for this vital service.



Sir: I am surprised to see Vera Baird quoted as saying that the Government isn't making to cuts to civil or family legal aid (The Big Question, 29 November).

I am an inner-city legal aid housing lawyer providing specialist advice to homeless people and people at risk of losing their homes. I am no fat cat; I earn the same as my friends who are teachers and nurses and for that a 50 to 55 hour week is the norm.

The proposed reforms mean a 50 per cent reduction in what my firm is paid, per case, for providing housing advice and assistance. I can only respond to that in one of two ways: dumb down the quality of my advice and avoid seeing the most needy clients with the most difficult problems or give up doing legal aid work.



Ties of friendship with Bulgaria

Sir: The disappointment expressed by Bulgarian ministers in the UK's attitude towards Bulgarians wishing to work in our country from January 2007 has been accompanied, understandably but sadly, by hints of tit-for-tat response.

There is a long history of connection between Bulgaria and the United Kingdom and, although the number of UK citizens likely to go there on fruit-picking gangs is small, there are UK companies with UK engineers working there. More to the point is the increasing numbers of Britons buying property in Bulgaria. The English language is being heard on the streets and in cafes well away from the Black Sea coast.

This small fraction of the contemporary British "diaspora" is being welcomed in Bulgaria and it would be proper for us to reciprocate by recognition, not only for the short term economic benefits but also the longer term cultural and diplomatic rewards of a Bulgarian presence in the UK.



Victim impact

Sir: While undoubtedly moving, the victim impact statement read to the court in the case of murderers of Tom ap Rhys Pryce raises an obvious question. What if Mr Pryce had been an unpleasant man with no loved ones to speak about the impact of his death. Would his murder have been less heinous, and would his murderers have deserved a lesser punishment?



The real disaster

Sir: How odd this world is when the words "agony" and "disaster" are used on the front page (28 November) to describe a cricketer and his team's performance, directly above a heartwrenching picture of yet another human life being taken in Iraq.



Legacy of slavery

Sir: Richard Gledhill (letter, 29 November) seeks to absolve Tony Blair from apologising for slavery on the grounds that "our present government and society has no link to" the policies of the past. Mr Gledhill has obviously not visited Bristol, many of whose most disenfranchised citizens are direct descendants of slaves. In contrast to Mr Gledhill I find it absurd that a British prime minister has not apologised for the slave trade long before now. It is high time that such an apology was forthcoming.



Falling star

Sir: There is inconsistency in the data on your Sun poster. With the quoted mass of 438,400,000,000lb and a rate of conversion of mass into energy of 4.3 million tons/second the life of the sun would be rather less than eight minutes.



Vibrant 'ghost town'

Sir: When Sean O'Grady (Motoring, 28 November) describes Leicester's city centre as "a ghost town" I wonder which Leicester he is referring to. In the one where I live the city centre is vibrant, and thronging with people participating in a wonderful multicultural life.



English for foreigners

Sir: I was once asked my nationality by a German official (letter, 29 November). Loyal to my Scottish, Welsh and Irish countrymen, I answered that I was citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. To which he replied, "Ja! Ja! Englisch." In France, even the Americans are considered English, which can sometimes be quite confusing.