Letters: Learco Chindamo

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Grieving widow expressed tolerance and understanding over killer

Sir: Most of the media have missed the point about Frances Lawrence. Had her response to the tribunal judges simply been that they should lock Learco Chindamo up and throw away the key, it would have been heard out in respectful silence, with little media response. Instead, we heard and saw deeply thought-out responses to the questions asked, nuanced and subtle, evidently too subtle for many.

She expressed concurrence with the tribunal judges' finding and support for human rights legislation. Mrs Lawrence also expressed her wish for a constructive future for Chindamo.

Her expression of personal upset and that of her family at him remaining in this country hardly amounts to a demand to have a say in his sentence. She did suggest that the views of victims be taken into account while relevant legislation is devised. She also said she found the language of human rights strange and inappropriate in dealing with someone who deprived her husband of a fundamental human right, and severely damaged the happiness and well-being of his family.

The procedure invoked would seem to meet the legal and judicial requirements of the situation, but what of the moral requirements? Release from a life sentence after 12 years is not much of an expression of society's disapproval. But there is a life sentence for Chindamo to serve, should he choose it. If he takes the opportunity to spend some of his freedom in actively and strenuously seeking to persuade others against a life of gang crime and violence into more socially conscious living, as a number in his position have done, some good will have come out of evil.

That may even bring some comfort to the beleaguered Lawrence family, who are understandably upset that glib judicial formulae are seen as a complete moral summary of the situation.

Edward Strachan

Cheadle, Cheshire

Behind the statistics on education

Sir: Your headline "Grammar schools fail to improve basic skills" and the accompanying article (24 August) doesn't tell the whole story. The measure of 5A* - C, including maths and English, refers to all pupils in Year 11 who are on role.

Hence, if a pupil is suffering ill health during the exam period and cannot physically sit examinations, the school cannot by definition have a 100 per cent pass rate, so the implied failure of grammar schools cannot necessarily be attributed to the education provided by the school.

All schools support their pupils to do their very best but on the crude statistics by which government measures schools no account is taken of the tremendous efforts put in by school staff and parents to enable some pupils to even take their examinations.

And all schools are striving to educate their pupils in the fullest sense; it is important that we do not lose sight that academic qualifications are but one measure; tolerance, good judgement, humility, empathy and self-awareness are equally important for a fulfilled and happy life.

Putting in place the resources for developing home and school environments to support these attributes of an all-round education would be the most effective way forward for government and industry so that schools do not feel under constant attack for not concentrating on a set of very narrow objectives, which for some pupils are wholly inappropriate.

Ian Carter

Headmaster, Poole Grammar School, Dorset

Sir: Any really experienced English teacher (and it is most unlikely that English is unique) knows that Ken Boston's remarks (13 August) on the debasement of A-level standards are untrue. I write from decades of experience, mainly in an outstanding grammar school where excellent results have always been the norm. Many candidates being awarded A grades are of the calibre of those with Cs 20 years ago.

English A-level was once the preferred second subject for entrance to demanding universities because it involved the ability to analyse logically and express one's findings in structured, closely measured arguments. A and AS examinations now encourage a tick chart mentality.

Coursework, designed, theoretically, to encourage individual, independent thought, is utterly formulaic. Sixth formers are given the stultifyingly prescriptive list of requirements for a good grade and urged to drag in every one. Instead of being an intellectually and emotionally demanding discipline, English is now a soft option requiring neither aptitude for nor commitment to literature. Sadly, young people are being deprived of the pleasure of discriminating close reading. It is now a subject in which anyone of adequate intelligence who is a total conformist, willing to be trained for a test instead of being educated, can be deemed to succeed.

In the long run, the most serious cause for dismay over this scandalous reduction of standards is that a new generation of teachers is emerging, having never known anything better.

Alma Evers

Edgbaston, Birmingham

9/11 conspiracy theory encouraged

Sir: Robert Fisk says: "I am the Middle East correspondent of The Independent, not the conspiracy correspondent; I have quite enough real plots on my hands in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Gulf, etc, to worry about imaginary ones in Manhattan" (Comment, 25 August).

Right. But he then goes on to ask "scientific" questions about 9/11. He says burning jet fuel could not reach the temperature that would melt steel. Correct, but it is high enough to seriously reduce its strength, hence the collapse. The two towers fell because they were rammed by two heavy aircraft loaded with jet fuel that caught fire. Directly a man of Robert Fisk's repute starts questioning the facts, when he manifestly is not technically qualified to do so, merely adds credence to utterances of the "ravers" he mentions; they will now quote him.

William Garrett

Harrow Middlesex

Bush avoided sick legacy of Vietnam

Sir: Yet again, President George Bush, in an act of extreme folly and desperation, has offered yet another reason to "stay the course" in Iraq. He claims that a hasty exit from our illegal and ill-fated occupation will condemn the Iraqis to a fate similar to that suffered by the Vietnamese and Cambodians after our hasty departure from their countries.

Conveniently omitted from Bush's speech is the inconvenient truth that we attacked Vietnam to install a puppet South Vietnamese government so we could forestall the democratic will of the people who would have elected a communist government by popular mandate.

The killing fields of Cambodia were a direct consequence of our intervention and bore no connection to our withdrawal. The Boat People had little choice but to flee after they were abandoned by their protectors.

Contrary to predictions by Kissinger and Nixon, dominoes did not fall, and communism in modern Vietnam has assumed a distinctive capitalist flavor.

But our legacy of Vietnam lives on, affecting the health and wellbeing of the people. Our massive bombing, using napalm, land mines and the chemical defoliant Agent Orange continues to abort the lives of the innocent.

The high cancer rate and abnormal births are a tragic commentary on our ill-fated foreign policy blunder. Iraqis are suffering similar health problems from our indiscriminate use of depleted uranium ammunition. The puppet Iraqi government will beat a hasty retreat at the first sign of a US withdrawal.

Tej Uberoi

Los Altos, California

Why people won't talk to the police

Sir: You report that Merseyside Police are disappointed that they have had a poor response from potential witnesses to the shooting of 11-year-old Rhys Jones in Croxteth (25 August). In the same edition, Andrea Farndon (letters) reports how her respect for the police has been destroyed by their behaviour towards middle-class peaceful protesters on the Climate Change march at Heathrow.

I had a similar expereince in 1962 on a Manchester University rag stunt. A large group of us walked round Manchester with permission from the chief constable and escorted by two PCs. But when we got to Piccadilly we were confronted by an angry Inspector who tore up the letter from the chief constable, and had us beaten with truncheons by PCs newly arrived on the scene.

Like Ms Farndon, this destroyed my trust in the police. More recently, I witnessed a brawl on the middle of the Eden Bridge in Carlisle between two motorists as a result of road rage, and which cause considerable traffic congestion.

Two of us tried to report this at Carlisle police station, but Cumbria Police weren't interested. Should the police be sur-prised when witnesses don't come forward?

Ian K Watson


No quick fixes for young offenders

Sir: I am a psychiatrist specialising in childhood and adolescence problems, and I wish to fully support the insightful article by Camilla Batmanghelidjh (25 August). Her assessment of the terrific psychosocial problems affecting large numbers of youngsters is absolutely spot on.

Her emphasis on the psychological dynamics of insecure parental attachments is accurate. It is vital to stress the insidious effect of chronic abuse and neglect that results in so many children growing up in this "culture of violence", which sets them on a trajectory towards a lifetime immersion in chaotic, violent relationships of their own.

Ms Batmanghelidjh rightly attacks those conservative thinkers who claim these young people merely need to be more harshly punished. They have suffered punishment enough in their short lives. She also correctly steers the argument from the issue of violence in rap music or video games, products of the culture of violence rather than causes.

My experience with social services and youth-offending teams is similar to that of Ms Batmanghelidjh's. These services perform an important job but they are often unfairly criticised by the media. Their work is woefully under-funded and under-valued.

I have followed the work of Kids Company with interest, and fully support what they are doing. There are indeed no quick fixes to these problems that we, the adults, have created. But as Ms Batmanghelidjh says, these children are not born bad, and it is possible to stimulate and engage them creatively. I share her enthusiam and optimism that we can create a society in which young people can be cared for with the respect they deserve.

Dr Ben Sessa

Wiveliscome, Somerset

Grim outlook for climate change

Sir: I think I can see climate change. Extreme weather will gradually become more frequent; some will be dramatic, Hurricane Katrina, the recent floods in North Korea, the fires in Greece, but most will be more prosaic.

Changing weather will reduce crop yields, increase car accidents, delay trains and increase illness and disease in people, livestock and crops. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and epidemics will continue. Houses, businesses and lives will have to be rebuilt.

For most of us, life will get gradually worse, but for increasing numbers it will become catastrophic. Resources will become scarcer. Crime, civil disobedience and war will progressively overtake all populations. There will always be something more urgent than saving the planet.

David Ridge

london N19


No pillow talk

Sir: Any plant begins to lose water as soon as it is cut (letter, 27 August). Did you know that you can treat lettuce like any other limp flowers or foliage: rehydrate by cutting the stem and standing in water. It works. So who needs pillow packs?

Pauline Jameson


Salty answer

Sir: Sadly, Jeremy Paxman (The Saturday Profile, 25 August) cannot entirely escape the criticisms levelled at television when it comes to his pronunciation of scientific and technological terms in his questioning of students on University Challenge. His manner may have revitalised the program-me, but there is a lack of thoroughness in the preparation. Last week he declared that the answer "nitrate" to the question, " What salt of potassium is saltpetre?", was wrong. The nitrate is the potassium salt known from medieval times as saltpetre, but Paxman, unnecessarily, required the word potassium to be repeated in the answer.

M J Perkins

Penrith, Cumbria

Don't bank on holidays

Sir: Commenting on the IPPR's proposal for an extra bank holiday in November, Neil Carberry, head of employment policy at the CBI, said (report, 27 August) that an extra bank holiday in Britain would cost the economy up to £6bn. Where does he get this extraordinary figure from? Does it include the extra spending on shopping and leisure that would happen? Does it include extra productivity from a workforce less stressed by being given an extra day off? No, of course not. Just a typical statement from another businessman representin g the so-called "efficient" private sector. Give us a break, Mr Carberry.

Jeremy McNeill


Sir: The case for more bank holidays is always urged by those who benefit from them. These people expect to be serviced on their day at the seaside by a very large underclass for whom bank holidays are just another working day. If we had any progressive politicans, they would be urging the abolition of all public holidays except Christmas Day, and for a statutory holiday entitlement of 30 days for all workers, private or public sector.

Trevor Pateman


In a word

Sir: Richard Ingrams describes Richard Dawkins (25 August) as an " obsessive atheist" and "a scientist", adding "eccentric if not actually mad". "Lunatics" and "regard with suspicion" follow. Replace the word scientist with the word Jew or Muslim, or even Anglican and I doubt the article would have been published.

Johan P Bjork


Biter bitten

Sir: I find it curious that Janet Street-Porter ("The obscene wealth that's ruining London", 23 August) loathes the city slickers for being "brash, arrogant, vulgar, loud and tasteless". We have always loved Janet for just those qualities.

Richard Sarson