Letters: Gay hate-crime

No need for a gay hate-crime law if the police do their job properly
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Sir: As a retired police officer I am unable to resist a round of applause for Johann Hari ("Gay-bashing should not be a hate crime", 11 October). Special hate crimes for criminal conduct against minority groups only ensure that those minority groups remain on the margins of society. Johann Hari quite correctly states that a cultural change in the police is required. How to do this?

Claiming that the police are homophobic or racist or whatever is absolutely the wrong way – even on those occasions where it may be true. Much better to challenge the individual operational officer for failing to comply with internal procedures and regulations. Far better to call upon the individual police manager to account for failing to ensure that procedures and regulations were complied with.

The police culture is defined and structured by legal procedures and regulations. The police even have regulations for enforcing the regulations. These are the real levers of influence. Issues of personal motivation are largely irrelevant. After all the police are trained to apply the law independently of their personal views.

The sole aim should be to get police officers to do their jobs properly. Who cares what some individuals mistakenly believe so long as it does not influence their professional behaviour? Most police officers actually want to do a good job and would support constructive interventions that enabled them to do this.

Roger Outing (Retired Chief Superintendent)

Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Sir: I have sympathy for Johann Hari's argument, in relation to gay hate crimes, that we should not be made a special case in law. For a long time I was persuaded of the strength of that argument.

However the point is somewhat diluted by the case of the chap beaten on the bus that Hari quotes. Had he been heterosexual and resting his head on his girlfriend's shoulder no one would even have noticed them, let alone threatened to kill them. Hate crimes legislation needs to exist in societies in which people are still singled out for violent attack on the basis of membership of a particular group – not because they are just another random human being (as in the case of mugging).

When the day comes where we can genuinely have the same rights as heterosexuals – to walk the streets holding hands unmolested, or to snog and grope each other on the Tube as many straight couples do without even having to imagine for a second that there may be violent consequences – then the case for any special legal consideration crumbles away. Until that day comes I feel we deserve the same protection as a black, Muslim or Jewish person.

Tony Evans

Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Counselling, Roehampton University, London SW15

Warming is worse than judge knew

Sir: In his judgment on the Al Gore presentation Mr Justice Burton has used the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the basis for his criticisms ("Inconvenient verdict delivered on Gore's climate change film", 11 October).

The IPCC used evidence published up to 2005. Since then scientists have recorded rapid increases in the impacts from global warming, notably with regard to the Arctic sea, Greenland ice cap and the West Antarctic ice sheet. In the former the summer melt is unprecedented. The Greenland ice sheet is showing extensive cracking and developing large holes or "moulins" through which melt water is plunging to the underside of the ice sheet. This is not only causing an acceleration in the melt rate but also lubricating its passage to the sea.

The IPCC's estimate of millennia for melting was based on the assumption that only direct radiation would be responsible. Now it is suggested that extensive melting will have occurred by the end of the century.

Given the climate change impacts since 2005, there is good reason to be alarmed, especially considering the time lag of 40 to 50 years between cause and effect. We are currently experiencing the effects of greenhouse gas emissions in the 1960s-70s.

Professor Peter F Smith

School of the Built Environment, University of Nottingham

Sir: The enthusiasm shown for marine wind farms ("The wind farm revolution", 11 October) is understandable. We are all keen on renewable energy and the siting of marine wind farms is indeed likely to cause less concern to human neighbours. However, we are not the only neighbours of marine developments.

In the Government's haste to build marine wind farms there is doubt that they are fully taking into account the impacts on marine wildlife. This is made especially difficult because of the lack of information about species and habitat use around our coast.

The noisy pile-driving during construction is of particular concern for whales and dolphins, as it has the potential to disrupt natural behaviours and displace these animals. The longer-term potential impacts are difficult to evaluate properly because of a critical lack of information about habitat use.

The UK has a rich and diverse marine flora and fauna and the industrialisation of our coastal waters urgently needs to take this into account.

Mark Simmonds

Director of Science, The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Chippenham, Wiltshire

Sir: Terhi Ikonen (letter, 11 October) has my fullest sympathy in his struggles against the dead hand of planning bureaucracy. I have lately incurred several thousand pounds in architects' fees, to no avail, in pursuit of a fully autonomous earth-sheltered house. The local planning department was apparently divided on the project but two planning consultants both opined that the chance of success was negligible.

Whilst conceding that the site was agriculturally valueless scrub and therefore outwith the usual run of applications, it is just this sort of development and Terhi Ikonen's project that need to be freed from restraint. All domestic and industrial/commercial microgeneration should be exempt from planning regulation and all related goods and services zero-rated for VAT. Safety and neighbourliness can be assured readily without onerous bureaucracy.

Providing that the applicant undertakes to dwell personally in a fully autonomous new house for a minimum period of, say, 10 years then approval should be automatic regardless of the site's location.

Steven Ford

Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

The 'silent' English who ruled Scotland

Sir: It is with continuing amusement that I read letters from disgruntled English Tories such as M Taylor (4 October) bleating that "the electorate are heartily sick of seeing MPs elected in Scottish constituencies trooping in and casting votes that will affect such things as top-up fees for English students, the NHS in England, and the provision of care for our elderly as well as the availability of free life-saving drugs".

The fact of the matter is that issues concerning England are voted on in London by hundreds of English MPs representing millions of English voters. The idea that there is a disenfranchised "silenced majority" in England simply because a small number of Scots are allowed to vote in these matters is completely risible. In any case any UK voting anomalies could easily be solved by the "feeble fudge" as M Taylor puts it, of English votes for English-only matters. This is already practised by the SNP, who are now the democratically elected government of Scotland.

Presumably M Taylor was one of those silenced majority Tories who kept silent for the best part of 300 years as every aspect of Scottish life was decided by English MPs, or who never mention the fact that hundreds of English Tory and Labour MPs voted to send young Scots soldiers to their deaths in Iraq in a futile and illegal war.

Barry Constable


Superbugs: other nations can cope

Sir: I, like many others, was horrified to read the findings of the investigation into the Clostridium difficile outbreak in UK hospitals which caused so many deaths.

And yet, this and other healthcare associated infections such as MRSA are virtually unheard of in many other European Union countries, in particular in the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. The Government has plainly failed to address this growing problem and yet there is no need to re-invent the wheel – let us learn from other EU member states.

Liz Lynne, MEP (Lib Dem, W Midlands)

Vice-President of the European Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs Committee, Stratford-upon-Avon, warwickshire

A family history of death and taxes

Sir: When my father died 37 years ago aged 54, Death Duty was paid on his whole estate, which passed in full to my mother – and within a year that tax was abolished, and replaced by IHT; under which the whole transfer (to the surviving spouse) would have been tax-free.

Now the double whammy. Mother died only last Christmas, aged 91. And within 10 months, the latest Chancellor announces the doubling of the IHT allowance. Great, but this family has still had to pay, and this time a six-figure sum. Under the newly announced regime, there it would again have been no payment.

IHT needs to be abolished. Then, while "there's nothing so certain as death and taxes", at least they need not coincide.

Alan Harding

Maidenhead, Berkshire

Sir: Siblings who share a house are discriminated against. I have shared a house with my sister for 25 years. When one of us dies the other will have to sell the house to pay the inheritance tax, because of the rising cost of property. Couples have the option of marriage or a civil partnership. We do not. It is time that this unfair discrimination was addressed.

Mary Pritchard

Richmond, Surrey

When theology overlaps with ethics

Sir: Steven Rhodes (letter, 2 October) asserts that theology operates in the domain of ethics, and criticises Dr John Haine for asking theologians to validate their subject by proposing "an experiment capable of falsification".

The trouble with Mr Rhodes' argument is that theology presumes to answer questions that are not solely a matter of ethics – the existence of gods, angels, an afterlife – purely from internal reflection, and takes its ethical positions from its conclusions. The upshot of this is that theologians often seem to think they have the right to dictate morality, lifestyle and ethics to the rest of us without feeling the slightest need to justify themselves except by arguments based on a powerful feeling that they are right.

Theologians might find sceptics less concerned were it not that their musings give rise to diktats by which they then expect the sceptics to live.

Mike Lim

Bolton, Greater Manchester

Sir: I was appalled to read the letter (9 October) from Joanna Selwood entitled "All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster", when all true Pastafarians know that his revealed and revered name is "The Giant Spaghetti Monster". He may, or may not, also be flying, but no true adherent would ever refer to him, in his noodliness, as the "Flying Spaghetti Monster".

Tony Pattison



Opium wars

Sir: The solution to the problem of opium grown in Afghanistan is obvious. The United Nations should buy the opium crop from the Afghan farmers at a slightly better rate than the illegal drug dealers, use what it must for medicinal purposes, and then burn the rest. Just stand clear of the smoke.

Paul Ganz

Puckeridge, Hertfordshire

French in Africa

Sir: I refer to M. Gérard Errera's letter (9 October). He should consider this: have the French troops been invited to the Central African Republic on the same premise as the German Wehrmacht was invited on the territoire français by the Vichy puppet government? Our ambassador to the UK seems to approve of the idea of having French armed troops in a country classified by the UN as one of the poorest in the world, and yet rich in uranium, diamonds, gold and oil. But surely, ce genre de fraternité is called neo-colonialism.

Sophie Bonnet


Unwelcome delivery

Sir: Am I alone in being fed up with the way the New Labour infinitive "to deliver" has been insinuated into the Queen's English? For example, the newly-named Government department responsible for education (while perversely not bearing that title) insists that we teachers do not teach but "deliver lessons". I propose that, henceforward, the verb is applied only to the actions of postmen and midwives. On the other hand, were this arrogant government willing to deliver a referendum on the European Treaty it might, in some small degree, be palliated.

Dr Ian Walker

Headmaster, King's School Rochester, Kent

Dachau survivor

Sir: The introduction to your article on Mario Capecchi (9 October) says his mother was sent to a death camp, later identified as Dachau. The article goes on to say the she "miraculously" survived. Her survival was no miracle. The Dachau regime was certainly brutal but it was not an extermination camp. According to the Wikipedia article more than 80 per cent of those sent there did survive, despite the deaths of some 35,000 "primarily from disease, malnutrition and suicide".

Robin Hardy-King

Folkestone, Kent

Stolen policies

Sir: I was disappointed that The Independent propounds the fiction that Labour stole the policies on inheritance tax, taxing flights rather than passengers and simplifying capital gains tax from the Tories. Taxing flights has been Lib Dem policy for many months, as has the simplification of capital gains tax. The Lib Dem conference approved a proposal that the inhereitance tax threshold should be raised to £500,000.

Geoff S Harris


Verdict on Brown

Sir: Please allow me to be the first person to call in the pages of a national newspaper for the return to office of Tony Blair.

David Wilkins

Ely, Cambridgeshire