Letters: Law-abiding hunt terrorised

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Law-abiding hunt terrorised by balaclava-clad 'monitors'

Sir: The numbers attending the Boxing Day meets prove that hunting is very much alive, but sadly so is the persecution by animal rights activists. On Christmas Eve I and 40 other mounted followers of the Clifton-on-Teme Hunt met with dozens of foot followers for a day's trail-hunting. After an hour or so of great company, good cheer and exciting riding, a large group of "hunt monitors" in black balaclavas charged out of the trees, shouting the foulest language and blowing hunting horns.

The hounds were upset and confused, being called from all directions and sprayed with some unknown substance. Many children were out, and one little girl of six fell off her pony when it was scared by these people. They slammed a gate on the hindquarters of a horse, and held gates closed against riders, despite being on land upon which only we had permission to be. Though we were not doing anything illegal, we decided for the safety of the hounds, horses and riders to move off and do hound exercise instead.

But the unpleasantness was not over. A lady rider was boxing up her horse alone when nine of them surrounded her and tried to steal her saddle and bridle. Fortunately a local man saw what was happening and defended her, scaring them off when he used his mobile to call for more help. They then visited the hunt kennels and the farm where we had held the meet, threatening to come back with guns and burn the buildings to the ground. The police did come, but too late to catch them.

How long are decent, law-abiding, hard-working people going to be terrorised by those who are not motivated by any love of animals, but merely hatred of people and lifestyles they do not understand? The behaviour we and many other hunts have experienced is frightening and dangerous and should not be allowed to continue. Such terrorism must be stopped.



Sir: Defiance of the law by some fox-hunting supporters has led correspondents in this and other papers to suggest a need for greater powers for the police and a tightening of the law.

Penny Little, a hunt monitor (letter, 28 December), mentions routinely being threatened, physical and verbal harassment, equipment vandalised and car tyres cut. Does this really need new laws? Rural councils and police forces faced with such yobbish behaviour could do well to look to the towns, where the anti-social behaviour order has been put to good effect against such criminals in our community.



Misguided war on prostitution

Sir: The report that men who pay for sex in Turkey are the first to inform the police if they suspect a woman has been coerced into it (28 December) makes a vivid contrast with the news that customers in the UK are to be further criminalised (29 December).

The Turkish authorities are to be congratulated for recognising that the people most likely to know about exploitation and violence in the sex industry are those who participate in it, both buyers and sellers; for making it easy to report problems, and for being able to distinguish between coerced and non-coerced prostitution. No such luck here.



Sir: A war on prostitution is a lost war, without a shot being fired. It just won't work. It will drive this sordid trade underground. Sexually transmitted diseases will go unchecked and the pimps will put more pressure on their prostitutes to earn more.

Legalised prostitution was a way out for the girls. Now there will be no escape.



Sir: The Government's announcement of a policy of "zero tolerance" of a profession that has endured for thousands of years suggests a certain lack of imagination.

A truly ambitious government that was not running out of ideas and steam would introduce a policy of "zero tolerance" of sin. Once sin has been eliminated there would be no need for the church, freeing up yet more valuable land assets in prime locations that New Labour could privatise for the benefit of its new corporate friends and donors.



Good husbandry and happy cows

Sir: As dairy farmers, we are well used to the strange ideas that the public and many news reporters have about farming (letter, 21 December).

The average age of our cows is 10, but we have many a lot older. All calves are fed on cows' milk when they have left their mothers, not formula milk. Our bull calves are reared in the same way as the heifer calves, not swiftly killed for pet food.

Cows do produce one calf a year, on average, but they are not milked all through their pregnancy. They have at least two months "maternity leave". Cows' udders are not so full they trail in the mud and lameness is rare but treated very swiftly and expertly.

If cows are poorly they are cared for with vets' advice, and if needed antibiotic therapy is used; the milk from treated cows is thrown away. (Incidentally, organically farmed cows are not allowed to be treated with antibiotics; if they cannot recover naturally from an illness they are culled.) We have regular farm inspections to ensure we comply with high hygiene and welfare standards, and are tested regularly for TB.

We believe that we do the very best for our cows and would invite anyone remotely interested to come and work alongside us and them. Our cows are treated with love, care and respect. Happy cows produce good milk.




Broad-minded apes doomed to oblivion

Sir: Your correspondent Phil Shakespeare (Letters, 27 December) feels it beneath him to have evolved from an ape when "unlike the apes, we have broad and generous minds".

I would draw his attention to the Bonobo apes (Pan paniscus), who live in peaceful matriarchal groups in which bisexuality is prevalent in 98 per cent of the society - presumably without the benefit of placard-waving fundamentalists. They are peaceful, raise their infants communally - as do most of the great apes - and have never yet declared war on their own species or the planet as a whole.

Sadly, they inhabit the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the impact of the civil war in that region means that they will almost certainly be rendered extinct within the next decade. What price our "peaceful and broad-minded" species?



When politicians forget history

Sir: Peter Coghlan (letter, 28 December) points out that families are losing loved ones because of a politician's belief that the Iraq invasion would bring stability to the Middle East, in defiance of the history of Western meddling in the region. But I doubt that teaching more history in schools would prevent another such war.

It is unlikely that schools would be allowed to teach children about Middle Eastern history or Britain's role in creating the instability and injustice we see today in Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere. Remember the fuss over "peace studies"? Now imagine that amplified and distorted by the right-wing press into "jihad studies".

In any case, politicians are generally well-educated individuals with easy access to this information, yet most of them showed no interest in learning from history when asked to vote on the invasion of Iraq.

Perhaps we first need to teach critical thinking and independence of mind, so that people know when to reach for the history books and question their political masters.



Children who enjoy academic challenge

Sir: I clearly live in an alternative world to Frank Scott (letter, 29 December) as my considerable experience of young people, both as a state schoolteacher and as a mother of three, is quite different.

I teach many well-motivated children who enjoy the challenge of demanding academic work. (I teach A-level physics, which has grown by more than 50 per cent in recent years.) They are polite and responsible and have excellent values, including those of "putting something back" and building a better and less selfish world. (One of my former students is following her Cambridge top first with a PGCE, following a number of Oxbridge graduates from my classes turned teachers in shortage subjects.)

We need to apply real science and thought to how we can overcome the real problems in our classrooms identified by your correspondents. It is not straightforward; as Colin Lomas (29 December) says the research shows children of similar families do as well in state schools as in private and able children do better in comprehensives than in grammar schools. We need to explore what makes schools good and then invest in it.

Yes there are plenty of reprehensible influences in the media, especially those which vaunt vanity and selfishness to be virtues rather than problems; but, despite that, many young people persist in developing into wonderful adults who want to make a better nation. Let us support not denigrate them.



A costly privatised penal system

Sir: Another inspection report on a privately run prison, Forest Bank, (21 December) shows that selling off offenders to the lowest bidder fails to keep them safe and fails to keep the public safe. A thousand adult men and teenagers are held in conditions where drugs and assaults are rife and relationships with staff are strained.

This came a week after a report on a jail holding young children, again run for profit, found that staff can watch the children in the shower, education provision was impoverished, the was food bad, and staffing levels were unsafe. The taxpayer is forking out nearly £150,000 a year for each child to be held in these conditions.

And it has been announced that no one will be prosecuted following the death of a 15-year-old boy whilst being restrained by staff in yet another private jail for children.

The argument put by ministers that the private sector has helped to set an example of good practice in the penal estate is spurious. It has been a costly experiment, in money and lives. Yet, next year the plan is to abolish the national probation service and sell off the management of offenders in the community to the lowest bidder, including people who have committed serious and violent crimes.

The Howard League for Penal Reform is calling on the Government to put a stop to this madness. Instead we want a constructive penal system that encourages people to make amends for the wrong they have done, the development of successful community sentences and prisons reserved for serious offenders who should be held safely.



Course correction for Galileo

Sir: I was somewhat alarmed by your leader article "A European project that Galileo would be proud of" (29 December ), as it suggests that by 2010 European Space Agency will have 30 satellites orbiting the earth at 14,000 feet. There would be an obvious danger to aircraft at this height, but it could , I suppose, give rise to a new extreme sport of satellite surfing. On reflection, perhaps 14,000 miles might be safer.



Sir: Galileo, the namesake of Europe's forthcoming satellite navigation system, was only recently pardoned by the late Pope for his heresy. Will US global policy and its military be as forgiving?



Bad King Henry

Sir: Can England's historians find no place among the "ten worst Britons" (27 December) for England's Stalin, Henry VIII, who subordinated his country's unity and happiness to his own libido, and brought in foreign mercenaries to butcher honest Englishmen?



Sir: Geoffrey Chaucer could not have been a "closet Catholic" because he died over a century before the Reformation. Nor did John "sign" Magna Carta ; he gave Royal Assent by affixing his seal to the charter.



Luck of the English

Sir: Your correspondents urge us to learn foreign languages (letters, 23 December). I worked for 10 years for a German company and was determined to learn and speak German, but every single member of staff was even more determined to speak and improve their English.

I have also conducted business in east and west Europe, parts of Africa and the Middle and Far East over 45 years. On not one single occasion would the learning of any foreign language (which one?) been of any good whatsoever. Enjoy the luck of having the universal language as mother tongue.



Big bungler

Sir: Philip Cresswell (letter, 26 December) is unconcerned about the "Big Brother" apparatus being put in place by the state because he is sceptical of the reliability of the large computer data bases that would be involved. Having seen the chaos the Government has succeeded in creating with garbled, incomplete or inaccurate data, I suspect his equanimity is misplaced.



Do-gooding lunatics

Sir: "Where is Dickens when you need him?", asks Richard Ingrams (24 December), commenting on the "menace of professional do-gooders". Yes, and where is Chesterton? In his essay "The Mad Official" (1912), he uses the case of the sick wife of a poor labourer summoned for neglecting their five children and sentenced to prison for six weeks to suggest that what was then modern England was a "vast vision of imbecility, with toppling cities and crazy countrysides, all dotted with industrious lunatics." And have things changed?