Letters: False passports

Prison 'deterrence' for foreigners with false passports does not work
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The Independent Online

Since 2005, there have been tariff sentences for those who use false passports. These are in the region of 12 to 18 months' jail even on a guilty plea. Shorter, but still custodial, sentences must be passed on those who enter with no passport. Such sentences cannot be justified on the basis of a deterrent policy, because foreign nationals come from all over the world and are very unlikely to be aware of the policy. Hundreds are imprisoned every year.

Three weeks ago, I appeared before the Court of Appeal on behalf of a young Algerian man who had attempted to get to Canada on a false passport. He had done so because he wanted a better opportunity to support his unemployed family of seven in Algeria, and my client had been supporting them all. He had elected not to have a wife or girlfriend because he could not afford to support two families. His family was to be evicted on 2 August if the rent was not paid. His custodial sentence was upheld.

In the afternoon, I appeared before a local magistrates' court on behalf of a young Englishman. He had snatched a handbag from an 80-year-old lady, assaulted a police officer and stolen property worth £1,500 from an aircraft where he was employed as a cleaner. He got a community sentence. Presumably, the Court of Appeal has laid down this policy at the behest of the executive, so it can be shown that the courts are "playing their part in supporting the authorities" (see R v Osman and R. v Daljit).

It is unfortunate that it cannot, or will not, see that the "deterrent" policy is an illusion. There is no point in "sending out a message" to foreign nationals which is not going to be heard. The courts are handing down sentences offensive to the ordinary sense of justice, and risk losing sight of our traditional values of fairness to those who are most vulnerable.

Alured Darlington

Solicitor advocate, London W7

A levels have been dumbed down

I am amazed that the "have A levels got easier?" debate persists, and Education ministers still routinely claim examination standards have not fallen. The shift in the pattern of grades awarded since the mid-1980s is so huge that it cannot be accounted for by better teachers, students, schools and colleges.

Between 1965 and 1984, there were three times more fails than A grades. This year, nine times more A grades were awarded than fails. If we randomly select two candidates who sat any A level between 1965 and 1984, there is a one in 11 chance that both failed it. That figure passed one in 1,000 this year. Now the worst-performing schools and colleges have better pass rates than some of the best-performing institutions had in the 1980s.

In any era, some students are brighter and work harder than others, and there are good and bad teachers and institutions. As any social statistician knows, no more than a small portion of the gargantuan change in the distribution of grades can be explained by improvements in students, teachers and institutions, even if they have generally improved a lot.

Dr Andrew Dunn

Research Fellow, Institute of Independent College and University Tutors, Coventry

In analysing the problem with A-levels, Mary Bousted (Opinion, 14 August) says "spoon-feeding is endemic" and this is supported in a thoughtful reflection on her own courses by A level candidate Martha Robinson (Opinion, 15 August).

The problem was expressed by distinguished American physical scientist, Richard N Zare, in a recent issue of an American science periodical: "Students often seem to value more the answer than the question. I think quite the opposite. The quest to answer a question is where the learning takes place, not the answer itself."

I fear the "wrong" approach is inculcated at school, and is hard to break out of at university.

Professor M John Perkins

Gamblesby, Cumbria

The school-leavers pictured opening their A-level results in your news section and the students on the cover of your UCAS listings section had much in common: they were all slim, attractive females of middle-class appearance. It's the same on TV, and probably in other newspapers.

What is this media obsession with such students to the exclusion of all others? Surely not all sub-editors are men having a mid-life crisis?

Stanley Knill

London N15

Guy Keleny's comment on the annual "pretty girl A-level results" phenomenon (Errors & Omissions, 16 August) reminds me of something similar on televised Proms. Whenever the camera zooms in on an individual performer it is usually an attractive female. But, I ask myself, am I really complaining about this? Probably not.

Trevor Roberts

Barking, Suffolk

Britain should stage 'Shoestring Games'

As each Olympic host endeavours to outdo the last one, are we approaching the legendary potlatches of western North America? The OED defines potlatch as "a ceremonial giving-away or destruction of property to enhance status".

Anthropologists say the receivers of such bounty are expected to repay this with even greater expenditure and so the competitive race goes on, causing an ever-increasing utilisation of scarce resources until there is ultimately bankruptcy. Perhaps London should start a new tradition of "the Shoestring Games", simple dignity for everyone, compatible with a thoroughly green Olympic venue and competition? Just a thought.

Geoff Sherlock

Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Gerald Haigh (letters, 19 August) must have been watching a different BBC transmission about the Olympics than me. I have been fed up to the back teeth with the interminable chatter about Michael Phelps and now Liu Xiang. I do not care how many medals Phelps has won or how many hamstrings Liu Xiang has pulled. It may be a global competition in a globalised world but when it comes to the Olympics only Britain is of interest to me.

J W Wright

Calne, Wiltshire

Where among your letter-writers is the sheer joy in witnessing an awe-inspiring work-ethic combined with sporting prowess and teamwork to bring outstanding success to so many of our athletes? This is precisely what we need and have lacked for so long, role models aplentyfor young people and a source of non-jingoistic pride for everyone.

As for the BBC coverage, 18 hours a day with four streams on digital TV covering virtually all the disciplines, whether we are represented or not, seems to me more than good. Of course we take a major interest in our own athletes when they win medals, and why not, but outstanding medallists from other countries are by no means ignored. This is a wonderful moment to be savoured and a great resource for the future. Enjoy and admire.

Paula Jones

London SW20

In the Media diary (18 August) John Walsh, commenting on Michael Phelps, makes fun of the Baltimore Sun for its use of the word "winningest". While it sounds odd to British ears, "winningest" was not made up in an attempt to provide the ultimate superlative for Phelps. In American English, particularly in a sporting context, it is perfectly normal to describe someone who has won more games, trophies or medals than anyone else as the winningest, and has been so since at least the 1970s.

British writers should realise that, given the number of people with English as their first language, the British are in the minority of English speakers, and there are many words which, while odd to us, are perfectly normal elsewhere.

Iain Herries

Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

Debate needed on health-care rationing

Jeremy Laurance dismisses health-care rationing as having been tried in the NHS a couple of decades ago, and the elimination of some cosmetic or unproven treatments as leading to imperceptible savings ("Can it ever be right for the NHS to reject drugs that could extend life?", 8 August).

Having worked in the NHS from 1959 to 1995, and been closely associated with it ever since, I have no recollection of any active attempts at rationing of health care other than by long waiting-lists and more recently by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) whose work is internationally respected but which inevitably hits the wrong people, those with severe illnesses for whom new but expensive treatments offer benefit.

The Government appears to be unwilling to sanction discussion on rationing. A debate I instigated in the Commons on 3 December 2007 on health care rationing had its title changed, without my consent, to health care "prioritisation".

In this debate, I outlined the irrefutable reasons for an open, public debate on health care rationing and the potential for savings to which this would lead. Even enforcing effectively the Government's own paper, Better Care, Better Value Indicators would lead to a saving of £2bn. This alone would surely be enough to raise Nice's threshold for affordability to allow provision of some of the new drugs at present being turned down to the devastating disappointment of so many people, including two of my own constituents.

Richard T Taylor MP (Independent, Wyre Forest)

House of Commons

West helped degrade Afghan women's lot

Terri Judd's report "The Afghan women jailed for being victims of rape" (18 August) gives the impression of British armed forces and politicians using their occupation of Afghanistan to ameliorate its inherent "cultural" misogyny, but it is worth remembering that it was not alwayslike this.

In the 1970s, Afghan women enjoyed equal education, health services and employment rights. It was the major powers who currently occupy Afghanistan that backed the fanatics as early as 1979. That this former handful of reactionary clerics and landowners is now in a position to jail rape victims is down to the massive covert funding and training they received as part of the USA's Cold War strategy.

The progressive social forces in Afghanistan were indiscriminately liquidated by the jihadists as common enemies at the west's behest. The "glorious" mujahideen threw acid in women's faces and destroyed schools and medical centres (atheist to them, communist to us), then finally entered Kabul.

It is little wonder that British officers are now building "humane" jails for rape victims, but the west really owes Afghan women a lot more than that.

Peter McKenna


Review unfair to author

I wish to correct some inaccuracies in your review by David Llewellyn of my book Crash! Bang! Wallop! Twenty20: A History of the Brief Game (14 July) that I feel have unfairly damaged my reputation as a journalist and that of the publishers, Know the Score Books.

I was disturbed to read that the involvement of Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford had "rather left Martin Hindley's book behind". In fact, a tenth of the book is dedicated to the way Stanford has used Twenty20 cricket to help energise a flagging interest and development of the sport in the Caribbean.

Llewellyn claimed the book was written "from an intensely personal viewpoint". I can't help but wonder if he had in fact read only the first few chapters, two of which were written in the first person, describing my attendance at the first Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa. Of the 21 chapters, only two are written in this voice. The remaining 19 are third-person historical narrative.

The incorrect spelling of my first name in Llewellyn's review adds to the impression that the reviewer has not fully acquainted himself with the book, which is disappointing, given his scathing attack on the author's own spelling and the quality of editing.

Martyn Hindley

Studley, Warwickshire


An insult, for a' that

Apropos Jeremy Paxman's belittling of Robert Burns ("Sentimental Journey", 14 August), his insult to the great William McGonagall, without doubt the true "king of sentimental doggerel", is surely equally offensive.

Bob Heys

Ripponden, West Yorkshire

All at sea, again

The writer of your leading article (18 August) has fallen into the same trap as Deborah Orr did recently, writing "careen" instead of "career". "The language of diplomacy, first over Georgia and now over Poland" is running out of control, not being keeled over to expose its ship's bottom for the barnacles to be scraped off.

Dr Antony Branfoot

Reading, Berkshire

Britain is ruled by US

Martin Copsey writes about his father joining the RAF in 1939 because he did not want his children to be ruled by Europeans (letters, 16 August). In spite of Ted Heath, you still aren't ruled by Europeans. You are ruled by the USA and don't seem to mind, seeing how easily you extradite one of your own countrymen to that foreign country for having the temerity to show them up while looking for information about alien life. Brussels will probably get the blame for that as well.

Y Janssens

Vlaardingen, Holland

Hard to swallow

Working in the music industry as a tour chef, I have noticed that our bulk deliveries of food carry all sorts of instructions and caveats (letters 18, 19 August). They include, on the polenta, "Warning: tends to bubble volcanically" and on the boxes of pies (supplied by The Pie Minister, Bristol), "Just open flaps and munch".

Dagmar Hewell

V Festival, Nr Telford

Home truth

The failure of the English to learn foreign languages (report, 19 August) is surely less worrying than their inability to communicate intelligibly in their own.

Rod Danton

Wingham, Kent