Letters: Guards' bearskin hats

Bears will still have to be shot, whatever hats the Guards wear
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The Independent Online

Sir: Your article on the slaughter of bears for Guards' headgear (17 June) omits to mention that hundreds of black bears - far more than are needed by the MoD - are shot each year in Canada not for sport but as menaces to public safety. Over a seven-year period to the year 2000, an average of 974 bears were killed for this reason.

Through its "Bear Aware" programmes, British Columbia has an extensive network of efforts designed to minimise bear-human contact. However, bears that continually haunt residential areas after attempts have been made to dissuade them or to return them to the wild will continue to be shot because the life of a child will always trump that of a bear.

This will happen regardless of whether or not their pelts end up on the heads of those guarding Buck House. By passing off this issue onto the shoulders of "the Canadian authorities", the Minister of Defence has clothed himself in the pelt of a different animal. He should stop his weaseling and specify that only the pelts of such "habituated" bears are to be purchased by MoD.



Sir: A desire to define "Britishness" has cropped up frequently of late, and at last we have the definitive definition, courtesy of the MoD. It is Grenadier Guardsmen wearing slaughtered bears on their heads as they perform a meaningless ritual for the benefit of tourist photographs.



Sir: So the MoD can find no suitable alternative to real bear skin? So scrap the silly ceremonial-only headgear altogether and get something more suited to 2006. "The antiquity of a wrong is no excuse for its continuation."



Stranglehold of the privately educated

Sir: The answer to the disgracefully disproportionate numbers of privately educated people holding top jobs in the UK (report, 15 June) is simple: abolish private education. This would undoubtedly drive up standards in the state sector as those parents denied the chance of buying their children's examination results would demand improvements.

Even scrapping the charitable status of private schools, which is effectively a subsidy from the taxpayer, would at least be a start. But of course this will never happen. The stranglehold of the privately educated on the levers of power will ensure it won't - both in Parliament and thanks to their cheerleaders in the media.

Ironically they do it in the name of freedom of choice. It is an argument that only has validity if the choice is open to everyone without selection and regardless of background, talent or ability to pay.



Sir: It is a myth that private education is superior. The private sector focuses on high academic achievement and it selects its pupils from the wealthy and ambitious who can get the results the school requires to maintain its image and preserve its myths. It is not the quality of the teaching (which is often not as good as in the state sector) but the style of the education and the culture of competition, ambition, elitism and control that launches its pupils into professions and positions in society in which they seek to take power.

Independent schools are not geared to producing well rounded, socially-educated, tolerant, self-accepting human beings. This is the domain of comprehensive education, in which much broader models of achievement, success and human value are understood.

If you go to a private or selective school with academic achievement as its priority, you will enter into a highly competitive culture in which you will need to learn some sharp survival tactics. You will have a very limited social education, in which you will find yourself constantly comparing yourself with your peers and you will learn that you cannot afford to "fail".

You may become skilled and experienced in defending yourself and clever at justifying your position. You may have to be an artful orator and learn to judge others before they judge you. The focus will always be on public achievement and erudite lip-service may be paid to your human value, but you will know that the real "winners" are the ones who show public results.

Private school pupils are groomed for the positions in society in which they can continue the tactics they have had to learn in order to survive the unhealthy environments of their schooling.



Sir: Congratulations on your long-awaited article on private schools. The inability of the Labour government to even acknowledge the social division that private education preserves, and their total failure to do anything about it have been the major reasons that I've felt unable to vote for them in recent elections.

It's understandable that those with wealth and influence would want to preserve a system that prefers their own children over those who are more capable. For Labour to condone it should be unthinkable, and for any government to think it the right way to get the best out of the next generation is appalling. Will this country ever be able to embrace equality of opportunity?



Sir: It is indeed "appalling" that the independent sector achieves such good results, as castigated by The Independent in recent editions. What is appalling is that significant praise is not heaped on some of the most successful schools in the world. Even more appalling is the failure of successive governments to fund places at these schools so that all can share in their excellence.



Shameful treatment of Thai immigrant

Sir: I was appalled by your report entitled "Thai immigrant 'is a soft target for Home Office' ": the words being those of his Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael (15 June).

Here is a young man who has lived almost all his life in Shetland. He committed one offence, which everyone agrees was wholly out of character four years ago and having tholed his assize, was reinstated in his job as a lifeguard at the local pool, where he was popular and well-regarded. And then, in the words of your report, which I found chilling, "...at 7am on 6 June, eight immigration officers broke down his front door, dragged him from his bed, put him on a flight to Aberdeen and denied him contact with anyone for 30 hours." He is now in Durham top-security prison.

As someone who has had wide experiences of often horrendous human rights abuses during the three years I was President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I found it deeply shameful that something like this should happen in my own country.

Whoever in the immigration service was responsible for this action should be sacked, and the young Thai should be returned to Shetland, where a third of the population has signed a petition for his release and where humanity and common sense still reside.



The IRA and Nazi Germany

Sir: I belatedly see that in Dominic Lawson's critique of Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley (30 May) he quotes extensively from an article of mine, published last year.

My argument dealt with the IRA during the 1940s and their relations with Nazi Germany; the tiny, fragmented IRA of the war years bore little or no relation to the mass popular movement of the 1918-21, period featured in the movie. Lawson is not comparing like with like and this point is irrelevant to a discussion of the Irish revolution anyway.

He also quotes me asking "how the Black and Tans would have looked after our occupation by the SS". Actually I was quoting another Irish historian, J J Lee, but may I put on record that I think Ken Loach seems to have portrayed quite well the impact that this brutal counter-insurgency force had on the rural Irish communities on which they were unleashed after 1920?



Police raids unfair on Asian Muslims

Sir: Among the many critical questions raised about the Forest Gate raid is the question of institutional racism. As Mohammed Abdulkahar, the man shot in the raid, so pointedly put it: "I feel the only crime I have done, in their eyes, is to be Asian with a beard." Asian Muslims are being asked, as a community, to subject themselves to indiscriminate police actions and violent raids as their contribution to making the rest of us feel safer.

The rate of conviction of these anti-terror raids, as you report, is minuscule and the methods used as we have twice seen twice in this past year can be deadly (or nearly so). How do these practices of "us" and "them" measure up to the principles of racial equality and justice that a liberal democracy is supposed to stand for?



Criminals who must stay locked up

Sir: One problem in determining how long a convicted criminal should be imprisoned (leading article, 19 June) is the confusion between punishment and prevention.

Punishment is emotionally satisfying but has been shown time and again to have surprisingly little effect as a deterrent. One reason for this seems to be the deeply-held belief by many potential criminals that they will not be caught. What is needed is protection of the public against crime, and this will often involve locking criminals up. What is now troubling us is conflict between humane release from prison of often well-behaved prisoners and their demonstration that this may trigger further crimes.

Where the crimes are very serious, such as abuse of children or murder, the protection of the public must come first, even where this means perpetual imprisonment - a life sentence in its literal sense. This exercises our consciences because prisons are essentially places of punishment. What is needed is a new sort of prison where criminals can be held away from the public but given a useful (if necessarily restricted) working life, much as used to be offered to the mentally ill in Colney Hatch asylum in its great pioneering days in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Only thus can we protect the innocent without unnecessary and unprofitable cruelty to the convicted.



Victims of the last 'legitimate' bigotry

Sir: I was very disturbed to read the Rev Stephen Griffith's letter (10 June) regarding discrimination against Catholics. It appears that nothing in his life has moved on and while he may have embraced liberalism in other aspects of his life, acceptance, tolerance and recognition of equality for Catholics in this country has escaped him.

My great-grandfather, Walter Graetrex-Smith was an extremely distinguished officer in the British Army, as were my grandfather and father. I am proud to say that I also continued the tradition and spent 14 years in the British Army. In that time there was never a doubt cast on my character or my person for my religion.

I think that Mr Griffith's prejudice against Catholics is out of date and has no relevance in our modern society. In the wake of the controversy over The Da Vinci Code it seems that Catholic bashing is the last bastion of "legitimate" prejudice left in this country.



Vigorous old age

Sir: I am pleased that Gareth Lloyd-Jones expects to die happily, laughing at the antics of "greybeard" cyclists (Letters, 15 June). Age for age it is quite likely that "greybeard" will remain far more healthy in his twilight years. Who, I wonder, has the last laugh?



Bats about wildlife

Sir: Michael McCarthy is disappointed by the numbers of mammals using his wildlife garden ("Meet the neighbours", 19 June). A garden with a pond, mature trees, wild and night scented flowers and varied insect life provides a wonderful feeding ground for bats. I suggest that Michael watches for anything flying in his garden for the half hour or so after sunset - he may be pleasantly surprised.



Song of liberty

Sir: In your article "Rainbow nation" (19 June) you reported that the crowd at a stadium rose for the opening line of the German national anthem, which you quote as "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles." This, the first stanza of Hoffmann von Fallersleben's "Deutschlandlied", is never sung as a national anthem; only the third stanza is. The first stanza, describing the extent von Fallersleben desired Germany to have in his day, would be highly objectionable today, whereas the third stanza demands unity and liberty under the law.



Clarkson's folly

Sir: Now The Sun joins the BBC in promoting motorist bigotry, and its champion, Jeremy Clarkson. The Independent ought to condemn, and not just report, such abuse ("Clarkson insult prompts dare to try bus driver's job", 19 June). It would appear Mr Clarkson wishes the public road to become the exclusive property of the private motorist, denying access to first the bicycle, now the bus, and presumably next the commercial vehicle. Thank heavens that, within a few decades, the price of fuel will return the car to the status of rich man's folly.



Anglo-Saxon invaders

Sir: I was intrigued by the revelation in last Friday's Independent ("Mutiny on 'Bounty' Island") that Old English survived the Norman Conquest and "a dialect that blends Tahitian with Old English" is now spoken on Norfolk Island. Thor Heyerdahl must have got something right - just that apparently it was not South Americans but Anglo-Saxons who sailed to the South Sea islands in the first millennium.