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Thursday 13 September 2012
Letters: Lesson of Hillsborough inquiries
The shocking revelations of how the investigations were conducted into the Hillsborough disaster will only shake an increasingly disturbed faith in the British inquiries system. Our own research in May this year, of more than 2,000 Britons, showed fewer than a third (27 per cent) said they had confidence in the inquiry system.
So what could be done differently? How can a process overcome defensiveness towards a "judgement" of the facts, motivating some to cover up events?
Would the real events at Hillsborough have emerged had a different inquiry process been used much sooner, one which considered the needs of all the stakeholders, especially the families of the Liverpool supporters? Such a stakeholder focus would have needed to search for acceptable answers for the families, and thus it is possible any misleading information would have been uncovered far sooner. A fact-based inquiry process can only deal with the facts available, which thus determines its agenda – a stakeholder focus can be a different proposition.
It is because there has been dissatisfaction with numerous public inquiries that the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution has embarked on its own "Inquiry into Inquiries", that I co-chair with Lord Woolf of Barnes. Our research this year showed that 56 per cent of the public thought that politicians have too much influence over the process and fewer than half (44 per cent) believe public inquiries result in the recommended changes being made.
One of the lessons from how the many different forms of inquiry into Hillsborough were conducted should be that when it comes to inquiries one size does not fit all.
Dr Karl Mackie
Chief Executive/Mediator, Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, London EC4
Perhaps the Hillsborough scandal could have been exposed much earlier had our media given more early support to the whistle-blowing, honest junior officers who had seen their factual reports doctored.
When Lord Trenchard was the Metropolitan Police Commissioner during the 1930s his clear policy towards any complaints was "Tell the truth immediately." The sooner that our police service introduces the kind of direct senior officer recruitment scheme which produced the likes of Trenchard the better it will be for all concerned.
The public's discontent with politicians
I believe that a reason for the euphoria engendered by the Olympic and Paralympic Games is that the actual events were largely politician-free zones, dominated by the athletes and the public themselves.
The booing of Mr Osborne has been well publicised: I was in the Olympic stadium on day eight of the Paralympics when one of the medal presenters was Tessa Jowell. She wasn't booed, but there was an audible groan, contrasted with the enthusiastic cheers for her fellow presenter from the ambulance service, which says something about the public's current discontent with politicians.
Have they noticed?
Matthew Kay (letter, 12 September) unintentionally demonstrates the problem of career politicians raised by Andreas Whittam Smith's democracy initiative.
He describes how his childhood growing up in deprived Kingston upon Hull politicised him at an early age, leading to politics at university and now a job with a politician. He feels that he has acquired enough life experience and skills from that background.
However, what he lacks, what all career politicians lack, is experience from a completely apolitical world. Be it in the professions, business, academia, industry or the military, he would be facing problems which require rational and logical examination, problems needing the co-operation of others for their resolution, problems that have nothing to do with politics. That is the experience he lacks and the fact that he doesn't realise it is the real issue.
The fear of litigation
I was taught by Professor Frank Furedi at the University of Kent and I have a lot of respect for the man and his opinions, but I have to disagree with him on this occasion ("Services being 'bled dry' by UK litigation culture", 10 September).
If a child falls over and cuts themselves in the playground, the school should not be "bracing themselves for a writ from the parents". If they have done nothing wrong then they have nothing to fear. Sure, some parents will want to seek advice, but any personal injury solicitor looking at the straightforward circumstances of a fall in the playground will (unless, say, the child fell because a chainsaw had been left in their path, to give a ridiculous example) advise the parents that where is no negligence there is no claim.
Where the prospects of success are lower than 51 per cent and the solicitor cannot offer a conditional fee agreement – not least because no legal expenses insurance would be available in those circumstances – then no personal injury solicitor who expects to remain in business could agree to issue proceedings. There has to be a realistic prospect of that disbursement (and issuing a writ is not cheap) being recovered at the end of the claim.
Once again, this warning of the dangers of the "compensation culture" is founded on misunderstanding of the way a legal business has to operate and serves only to feed the very fear of litigation of which the authors complain.
If the claim is without merit, it will fail. If it is obviously without merit and headed for failure then no solicitor could possibly have any motive for "issuing a writ" the cost of which will not be recoverable from the defendant and will typically come directly out of the firm's own funds. It is the fear of litigation and not litigation itself which is crippling this country and the professor is feeding those flames.
Personal Injury Solicitor, Henmans LLP, Oxford
Mystery of Millais phantom phallus
You report (11 September) that there is a hidden phallic symbol (the shadow of a nutcracker) contained in Isabella, the Pre-Raphaelite painting by Millais. The obviously excited Carol Jacobi – the curator promoting the exhibition – enthuses that "It gives us a different view of the Victorians".
Well, a view maybe, but the gentleman most likely to be the proud owner of the erection – it extends some distance across tablecloth – is holding the nutcracker while attempting to kick a dog. Ms Jacobi's interpretation omits the obvious possibility that the nutcracker operator has failed – as I often have – to make any impression on a particularly defiant Brazil nut and jammed his little finger, then lashed out at the obviously innocent greyhound.
The shadow is clearly that of a nutcracker – if it is not then there is nothing else in the painting to cast the shadow depicted, unless, of course, it is a phantom phallus.
Sorting the DWP mail
Your report "Royal Mail staff given access to confidential medical details" (8 September) gave a misleading impression of Royal Mail's work for the Department of Work and Pensions.
This is not about postmen and women opening the mail. This is about post being delivered in the normal way and then sorted at secure sites by specially selected, vetted and trained staff. The opening and sorting of DWP mail has been outsourced since 1994. The current contract was awarded in 2006. Outsourcing to Royal Mail significantly speeds the processing of payments and correspondence.
All the secure rooms are covered by CCTV and the specialist staff are trained in security and confidentiality requirements to the same degree as DWP staff.
Royal Mail Group Ltd, London EC4
A fairer Olympic medal count
Although there is apparently no IOC backing, for the purposes of the official London 2012 website, countries were rated in the table according to how many gold medals they won. Silver and bronze are ignored, except where two countries have achieved an equal number of gold medals.
A fairer assessment of how a country has performed could be achieved by a points system under which gold medals are worth five points, silver three and bronze one. Applying this to the top three places in the Paralympic Games, China still comes first but the positions of Russia and Great Britain are reversed, with Britain coming second.
Perhaps this more sensible classification could be applied to the Rio Games in 2016.
Just blame the unions
Being "politically astute" makes no difference to the coverage of trade unions in the "headlines" Steve Richards speaks of ("Strike threats show just how out of touch the unions now are", 11 September). The TUC could announce unions were going to hand out £50 high street vouchers to homeless people and some newspapers would run with "irresponsible militants fuelling inflation".
Unions haven't "allowed the talk of industrial action to become the overwhelming theme"; that is something our overwhelmingly right-wing and anti-union media decided all by itself. It is sad to see The Independent falling into line.
It was good to read of Dominic Raab's zeal for greater democracy (12 September) The Conservative MP advocates that trade unions should look for the approval of at least 50 per cent of their membership. I cordially invite him to extend this zeal to the election of MPs. This would have the dual benefits of saving cost by substantially reducing the number of MPs and also allowing the civil servants to govern the country without interference from politicians.
The confusion over the Bank of England setting interest rates in an independent Scotland must be cleared up. At the moment the UK Government sets the inflation target for the Bank of England. Are the SNP seriously saying they will have to accept the inflation target and interest-rates and quantitative easing set by a foreign government's central bank?
Bomb them all
I read Amos Yadlin's article ("Only bombing Assad's forces will stop the slaughter now", 6 September) with interest. The logic of his argument seems to suggest that the West should attack Israel for its massacre of civilians in Gaza. Is this what he is advocating?
The first sign that we are facing up the reality of climate change, will be when politicians cease referring to "future generations". The way we are going I reckon we have no more than three left – with luck.
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