It is important to scotch two myths that are gaining currency in the wake of the Knox-Sollecito verdict.
Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have been released because they are innocent – they did not do the crime – and Judge Hellmann made that crystal clear when he read out the verdict. In Italian law this goes beyond the simple "not guilty" verdict we have in the UK or US. They were emphatically not released on a technicality because police evidence collection techniques were faulty (although they were).
The other myth is the existence of a "multi-million-pound PR campaign" that swayed public and judicial opinion. Knox's family hired Gogerty Marriott to help them to counter prosecution spin that was destroying their daughter's reputation in the media before the first trial had even started. But the real work in the public domain was carried out by a small band of volunteers who succeeded in making the case for innocence because we know a miscarriage of justice when we see one. In court they were represented by lawyers who believed in them, fought for them and loved them.
The truth is that the investigation into Meredith Kercher's murder was hijacked by a vain and arrogant prosecutor. The murder was always a simple tragedy and one man is guilty: Rudy Guede.
It was a disgrace that prosecutor Giuliano Mignini was permitted his lurid sexual fantasies and hyperbolic descriptions of Amanda Knox as a "deviant she-devil". The performance of the Italian forensic team was also deplorable and as bad as that seen in the prosecutions of the Birmingham Six and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
It is highly unlikely Sollecito and Knox would have been found guilty in a US or UK court and little was left of the original case against them but spite, hearsay and malice. Yet Italy can be proud that its system proved self-righting, while the Scottish judiciary still struggles to admit any culpability in the manifestly unsafe verdict on Megrahi.
Dr John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife
Irrespective of the verdicts, the farrago in Perugia brings to mind one of the aptly named Proverbs of Hell from William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "Truth can never be told so as to be understood and not believ'd."
Unfortunately, there was nothing understandable about the way the Italian investigating authorities and legal system dealt with the case. Justice has been ill served by a country the ancient antecedents of which provided the basis for the legal systems of modern democracies around the world.
Gender gap at work persists
Many women will be cheered by the news that on some measures, the gender pay gap is closing and many girls are doing extremely well in school ("Young women now earn more than men", 3 October). However, it is too soon to blow the trumpet for women's victory over discrimination and adversity.
At Platform 51, we work with hundreds of women and girls who are struggling to find employment or education opportunities, and the latest national statistics paint a much bleaker picture of women's employment and training prospects overall; women are severely affected by job cuts and, with over 1,065,000 women unemployed, the situation is at its worst in 23 years.
We also know that, despite promising academic figures, 16- to 24-year-old girls are more likely to be NEET than boys, with 50,000 more girls becoming NEET this year. While any movement towards closing the gender pay gap is welcome, this must not distract the Government from prioritising those most in need of help.
Platform 51, Oxford
Why is it that when gender equality in the workplace is discussed it is always in terms of high-level employment such as directorships? I am totally in agreement with achievement being related to ability and not gender, but where are the protests that not enough women are employed as refuse disposal personnel or similar vital activities to maintain public health?
After years of listening to women complain that they are paid less than men, I found The Independent's report, "Young women now earn more than men". I searched for objections to this development – particularly from women. I couldn't find any.
Is it possible that they were less interested in equality than they pretended to be?
Hedon, East Yorkshire
Mary Ann Sieghart (3 October) is mistaken if she thinks a parliament with 52 per cent female MPs will be representative of 52 per cent of the population. Female MPs, journalists, celebrities are clearly of the mind that a successful career is the ultimate goal, which, with the help of subsidised childcare, we will combine with family life if we choose.
Who represents the mothers who stay at home to care for their children? Who speaks up for them? Who thinks they are doing anything useful for society?
We have the unhappiest children in Europe and pensioners spending their last years in the care of strangers. True family life and caring for the vulnerable has all but disappeared. Perhaps austerity measures will cause reflection on what is truly important.
And perhaps Mary Ann could tell me one good policy that Mrs Thatcher had for the benefit of women? To believe that only female MPs can represent the views of women is simply not true; they represent only a certain type of woman.
'One state' would not be Israel
John Day's assertion (letter, 3 October) that Israel will not survive as an independent Jewish state, and instead emerge as a Jewish minority in a Greater Palestine reads like something taken from the Hamas charter. The only difference is that if Hamas has its way Jews will not survive this Islamist "victory".
What has happened to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict? Increasingly the English chattering classes are advocating a one state solution with an inbuilt Muslim majority.
Why can there not be, as advocated, and accepted by Israel, in the UN General Assembly in 1947, a state for Jews and one for the Arabs? Yes, the realpolitik on the ground has changed since then but the dream must not be forgotten.
Israel does not exist today just because of its relationship with the USA. It exists because its legitimacy is enshrined in international law.
Andrew J Shaw
Mary Dejevsky ("Will Israel still exist in 2048?", 30 September) paints a picture of Israel under threat from all sides as a result of the Arab Spring, porous borders and a changing internal demographic.
It is true that Israel is becoming more isolated in the international community and within the Middle East region, but this is not due to outside events but to the continual refusal of Israel to end the occupation and stop its ongoing settlement expansion programme.
Relations with Turkey have broken down because Israel shot dead eight of its citizens and refuses to apologise, not because somehow the Turks have got it in for the Israelis.
The invisible dead in Libya
The health spokesman for the Libyan National Transitional Council has recently estimated that 30,000 people have been killed and 50,000 wounded so far in the military action there.
Libya has a population of about 6 million. If what the spokesman says is true, this is equivalent, in terms of the UK population, of 300,000 dead and 500,000 wounded, which would wipe out Coventry and cripple half of Birmingham.
This is definitely not the impression you get from following the events on the main TV and radio channels, where it appears that hardly anybody dies. I cannot remember when casualty figures were last included in a prime-time news report from Libya. Strange, because there seem to be plenty of British reporters popping in and out.
Still, now we know what Mr Cameron means when he says that we mustn't stand by and watch civilians being massacred in their own countries. We have to get in there and do our own bit.
I find nothing in the papers referring to the Italo-Turkish War which broke out a century ago (29 September 1911). This was the conflict which brought what is now Libya into the sphere of European power politics, and the first war to see the use of heavier-than-air aircraft as a military weapon.
A D Harvey
Punishments for apostates
I read with interest the difficulties that ex-members of the Jehovah's Witness sect have and the problem of them being demonised or ostracised (letter, 4 October).
Because religion is a matter of faith and conviction, it is not surprising that the adherents of any faith feel threatened and challenged when their former fellow believers decide to leave the fold. Sadly this challenge seems often to lead to hatred and bitterness rather than dialogue and understanding.
Within the Christian denominations this is typified by the exclusive Plymouth Brethren. I have two friends who were brought up within this sect, and on deciding to leave were "shut out" or completely ostracised by all their friends and family for many years.
Sadly it is a notable feature of Islam: in Sharia law the penalty for apostasy is death, even though most ex-Muslims are not dealt with in this way. One wonders to what extent our pluralistic culture will soften this very harsh aspect of traditional Islam.
The magic of mushrooms
Push out the boat for psilocybin. Who wouldn't want a regular annual boost to their "imagination, artistic appreciation, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness" (your 30 September report on a the Baltimore magic mushroom study)?
Given the prospect of improving "how people perceive themselves and their environment", our government should be among the first to plan for release of the drug to holders of major public office. And, once the link between drug-induced "mystical experience" and greater openness has been firmly established, how about our making the passing of an annual "openness" test a fitness-for-office requirement for MPs, top civil servants and economists, bankers, company directors, union leaders, newspaper editors and so on?
The drug could also be trialled for its effects on such groups as pensioners and prisoners. In fact, it's so evidently in the widest possible public interest, why should anyone be denied it? This being so, replication of the study ought to be an overriding priority.
Excuses for being too fat
I am not surprised that researchers have found a correlation between the BMI of parents and their offspring. In fact in just a few hours of people-watching you would draw this conclusion. But this is very far from establishing a "thin gene"; more likely children of low-BMI parents tend to adopt the eating regime of their parents.
Once again research is giving obese people an excuse for their obesity. It would of course be interesting to conduct the same study on people adopted at birth who have since made contact with their birth parents. Only then could you start to talk about a "thin gene".
Melton Mowbray, leicestershire
I suppose the success of The Great British Bake-Off (report, 4 October) would have nothing to do with the current obesity epidemic, would it?
US right of self-defence
Two letters page contributors (3 October) both condemned the US drone assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, citing the Americans as cowards and morally bankrupt.
Anwar al-Awlaki called himself a soldier of Islam, urged, beseeched, cajoled and harangued all people of the Muslim faith to murder as many US citizens as they possibly could, and by any means at their disposal; so the US responded.
The hypocrisy and cant of the blatantly anti-American hysteria, disguised as liberal enlightenment, is best summed up by that famous French proverb created to expose such drivel: This animal is dangerous; when we attacked it, it defended itself.
Michael R Gordon
The Independent is a national newspaper yet on Monday three pages were devoted to England, half a page to Wales and half to Ireland. Just because the England rugby team are a load of boors doesn't mean we want to keep reading about their antics in the sports section. The sooner they get knocked out the better (I'm English).
Can Simon Calder or, indeed, any of the airline officials cited in his article on passenger safety (3 October) explain how to adopt the brace position when, for most of us, there is not sufficient room between seats to allow us to bend over?
Further to the correspondence on the 3 October Concise Crossword, is Cyan a primary colour? I don't think so. A printing pigment, yes, a primary colour, no; those would be red, green and blue.
We've just experienced the warmest end to September for more than 100 years. So what caused that 1895 heatwave? This was even before the first flight by the Wright brothers.
Perspectives on access to universities
A culture that sneers at intelligence
When working-class pupils leave school without qualifications, the schools and teachers are routinely blamed for "failing" poorer pupils. Now universities are being blamed for "failing" poorer students because universities have not hit targets for widening access ("Universities face cuts for failing to boost access", 29 September).
If working class youngsters do not succeed academically at school, or do not go to university, perhaps the problem is the lack of encouragement from their parents. There seems to remain a culturally-ingrained, anti-education, anti-intellectual mentality which sneers at any sign of intelligence or literacy.
Time lag ignored
We have heard that universities are failing to attract sufficient students from poor backgrounds, and that they should be penalised.
Sir Martin Harris, director of the Office for Fair Access, in his analysis of the problem, said that students at school were not getting the right advice to enable them to improve their chances and that they should be getting the right advice at age 14.
That is unquestionable, but given that most students are admitted to university at age 19, should the system not recognise that there will be a time delay in this message getting back to the schools and students choosing correspondingly. The idea that universities should be financially penalised for not meeting targets next year when the acknowledged timescale is five years beggars description as a sensible way to run our universities.
It is time for the universities collectively to rise up and tell the Government and its agencies to concentrate on the economy rather than interfere at a relatively trivial level.
(Vice-Chancellor, City University 1978-98)
It's going to get worse
Your article highlights the challenge ahead for those of us committed to widening participation in our universities.
The decision to axe Aimhigher and the cut in outreach funding will make the challenge ever greater. Aimhigher co-ordinated access measures such as visits to university campuses, residential summer schools, open days and mentoring schemes. With no replacement for Aimhigher, independent experts expect the number going to university from disadvantaged backgrounds to drop.
Analysis carried out this summer by the House of Commons Library indicated outreach work by universities to state school pupils and those from disadvantaged backgrounds is set to drop by 60 per cent in 2011-12 and while it will increase, over the next four years, is still expected to be 30 per cent lower in 2015-16 compared with 2010-11 in real terms.
Gareth Thomas MP
Shadow Minister for Higher Education
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