Letters: Lockerbie case

Justice and mercy in the Lockerbie bomb case

Howard Jacobson's article on the freeing of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi (5 September) left me amazed. I did not realise that such medieval ideas existed in the civilised world.

He quotes approvingly from Geoffrey Robertson's article (which I also found unbelievable): "We show mercy by abjuring torture and the death penalty." This is absolutely monstrous. Abolition of the death penalty means that nobody can be put to death by the state for a crime which they did not commit and that miscarriages of justice (they do happen, Mr Jacobson), while obviously not fully corrected, can to some extent be compensated. To suggest that we show mercy by not torturing reveals a state of mind that is truly sick.

Mr Jacobson advises us: "If you are not outraged . . . step aside." But supposing I don't: suppose I put myself between the vigilantes and their target. Will any injury to me be my own fault?

Roy Hiscock

London N16

Given that there are a large number of people who doubt Megrahi's guilt and on some pretty well established evidentiary grounds; given that the UK has a foul record of state-sponsored miscarriages of justice especially in terrorism cases: it's not surprising that a lot of people believe him to be a scapegoat.

Adam Walker


Will Libya be obliged to pay reparations to the families of people killed by its exported Semtex? What an excellent idea! Let's apply it generally. We should require the American and British governments – who export more than half of all arms sold internationally – to offer reparations to all the civilians killed and injured by their weapons over the years.

Robert Sather

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Scots and English share sovereignty

Donald J MacLeod's comparison (letter, 17 September) of the case for Scottish "independence" with your support for the independence from Russian dominance of the countries of Eastern Europe is invalid, and trivialises the oppression suffered by those countries.

Scotland and England merged their sovereignties 300 years ago, since when we have been one kingdom, gradually developing democracy. Neither party "lost" its independence.

It is true that in Scotland support for the union was obtained by corruption, and that there was public opposition among the ordinary people, but if we are to unpick the Union because we do not like its corrupt and undemocratic origin where should we stop? The Lords of the Isles at one time claimed sovereignty, until their independence was worn down by the Scottish crown by a mixture of conquest and guile. Would a sovereign Scottish government indulge such claims for self-determination?

There are many people like me, of mixed Scottish and English descent, who would view with dismay the rending apart of our country and who would hate to become foreign in a part of it. Much wrong was done in the long history of strife between Scotland and England (on both sides) but separation would not undo those wrongs.

My Scottish ancestry is entirely Highland, and I am aware that before the Union, Lowland Scots regarded Highlanders with suspicion and treated us as second-class citizens, despising our language and culture. There would, I think, be a historical irony in restoring the Highlands to government by those burgesses of Edinburgh.

We should not forget the past, but neither should we be enslaved by it; we are British and now part of a larger union – Europe – so talk of separatism is retrograde. Be proud to be British. And Scottish. And English.

Donald MacCallum

Bletchley, Milton Keynes.

It is my understanding that the Act of Union, unpopular though it was to many Scots, was an economic expedient. It was designed to bail out Scottish finances, severely depleted following Scotland's disastrous attempt to settle the Darien Gap on the Panama Isthmus.

This year, two major Scottish Banks failed spectacularly and had to bailed out by the British taxpayer. The decision to release Megrahi has caused an outcry in Scotland and precipitated a row with Westminster.

It hardly seems the best time for Alex Salmond to ask the Scots to vote on independence. The English, however, may long for such a plebiscite. The Barnett formula and the West Lothian question perpetuate economic and political inequalities, while the whole nation has ringside seats as two Scots – one in Westminister, one in Holyrood – slug it out for political supremacy.

Monique S Sanders

Cupar, Fife

Donald J MacLeod does not need to use bullets on Englishmen to achieve Scottish independence. A majority of Englishmen favour release from the Union, since democracy and funding are now so unfairly skewed in Scotland's favour. All Donald need do is take his bullets to Westminster. He will find that most of the people he should use them on are Scots.

Peter Threlfall

Grasby, Lincolnshire

I am sure I am not the only Englishman relishing the prospect of Scottish independence. Never mind the political, social or economic ramifications, we Sassenachs will be able to set our clocks to Central European Time and thus align ourselves with our largest trading partners, and get an extra hour of daylight. Life will be so much sweeter. You never know, it might even improve the weather.

Paul Roper


When Britain really was broken

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary is taking advantage of the fact that voters must be at least 35 years old to remember the last Conservative government's appalling record during their 18 years in power. He has likened some UK inner cities to those depicted in the US television drama The Wire. It's a pity he doesn't compare them to what they were like under the Tories.

We had riots in London, Liverpool and Bristol brought about by joblessness and deprivation incurred under Thatcher, whose policies resulted in the destruction of our manufacturing industries across the country and more than 3 million unemployed.

Throughout their time in power, the Tories made the rich richer, promising that wealth would "trickle down" and create jobs. Instead, the fat cats simply avoided tax by moving their money to offshore havens and ignored the plight of millions of people in Britain.

The list of Tory policies which did not affect the well-off but had disastrous effects on the working people in this country is endless: privatisations resulting in price hikes and more subsidies from the taxpayer than were given pre-privatisation; cuts to public services affecting the poorest and oldest in our society; NHS waiting lists of two years or more; deregulation of the airwaves which has produced poor-quality TV programmes; the loading of MPs' expenses in order to fool the people that large pay rises were not being given to them.

The Tories' "Broken Britain" campaign bears no relation to the facts, but they feel secure in the knowledge that many people in this country have no memory of the broken promises of the Tory years.

Tony Probert

Locking, North Somerset

B E J Crombie (Letters, 3 September) gives choice evidence that the country is falling apart, and then asks what that tells us about the educational system.

Education requires effort, motivation, curiosity, and critical thought. It is time-consuming and not instant, and the qualities it demands have been in decline for decades. When the jargon, spin, and PR have been cut away, educational institutions now function as qualification factories which demand little application of effort, low levels of motivation, little curiosity, and still less critical thought.

The goal of students is to obtain a piece of paper at the end of the course by ticking the right boxes and regurgitating material found on the internet. Ms Crombie paints an accurate portrait of the consequences.

Lyn Atterbury

Szydlowo, Poland

Let's get on with Lords reform

The latest proposals for reform of the Lords are indeed, as Pam Giddy suggests in her letter (31 August), "a major disappointment". But I cannot agree with your correspondent Alan Golding that the necessity of holding elections would cause problems.

Mr Golding implies that persons "more dignified" than politicians would be "unwilling to participate". Implicitly, politics is a dirty business. I can't agree. It is we, the electors, who have the principal responsibility for the modern political process, with its obsession with personalities and trivia. We are too easily swayed by such ephemera.

The 1997 Labour manifesto promised a referendum on proportional representation and abolition of the hereditary peers as a first step to democratic reform of the upper house. As a Labour Party member I am appalled that Tony Blair ditched the first promise and that we're still procrastinating 12 years later over the second.

Steven Powell

London N7

BBC is much more than a broadcaster

James Murdoch believes that the only guarantee of quality in broadcasting is profit, but he has no idea what true profit is.

The BBC Natural History Unit has just discovered 40 previously unknown species in Papua New Guinea; a glorious season of the Proms, one of the great music festivals of the world, is just drawing to an end. What has Fox News done that is remotely comparable?

The BBC is not just a broadcaster; it is a national and international institution of immense cultural, educational and scientific importance. We should certainly scrutinise it, as we should any public body, but we should treasure and defend it.

Catherine Rose

Olney, Buckinghamshire

Hunt down these pirates

Congratulations to John Lovelock of the Federation against Software Theft (letters, 1 September) for reminding us how the "UK's wonderful creative industries" are being sucked of every well-earned penny by thieving music-lovers.

Let's extend the campaign and close down all those Oxfam shops which peddle second-hand books. Indeed, let's burn all unwanted books in case they get into the hands of someone who did not pay full price for them. Or is it perhaps that authors appreciate people reading their books, wherever they came from?

Professor Edward James

London N17

Life with no internet

A few people, like Richard Ingrams (5 September), and my retired aunt, are happy to live without the internet, but the vast majority of people without internet are excluded and disadvantaged. Richard Ingrams is a wealthy, retired journalist and well-connected man. For many poor families, exclusion from the internet is exclusion from society.

Karl Osborne

Hounslow, Middlesex

Good Germans

While Great Britain commemorates the outbreak of the Second World War, the Government criticises Germany for not showing much enthusiasm for fighting in Afghanistan. Should the Government not be celebrating Germany's reluctance to engage in military adventures; more so if there seems to be little moral justification in this lunatic attempt to ignore history and turn a tribal society into a glowing example of 21st-century western democracy?

Gunter Straub

London NW3

Painted cathedrals

Chartres cathedral being restored to medieval glory is not a first, as your report (5 September) suggests. One of Holland's oldest cities, 's-Hertogenbosch (where the 15th century painter Hieronymus Bosch lived and died), boasts a magnificent cathedral of about the same period. Its interior, as at Chartres, used to be covered in layers of dirt. The accidental find of a residue of medieval paintwork led to a deep-clean of the interior and restoration of the "original" medieval design.

Peter de Bont

London E7

Arrested for protest

On a trip to London I was passing Downing Street and saw what looked like a demonstration against the Israeli leader, who was in a meeting with the Prime Minister. Three Palestinian women and one male protester who were shouting "Free Palestine" were handcuffed and arrested. What has become of our country when shouting a slogan can get you arrested? When will our government stop appeasing Israeli and American opinion and adopt a more independent line, like, dare I say it, the Scottish justice minister?

Steven Calrow


Not too warm

Phew, I've just come unscathed through the 87th warmest summer since records began in England in 1659. Thank God for global warming, eh?

Kevin Packham