A young man travelling to work is shot dead. The Met chief says he was not told about it in time, the commander of the killing operation says it could happen again and she is promoted, the coroner of the inquest rules out a relevant verdict, no individual policeman is found guilty of anything and all police involved are returned to duty.
The only person who comes out of this scenario with credit is the Mayor of London, who told Ian Blair that he had no confidence in him, presumably recognising the principle, adhered to before New Labour politicised the Civil Service, that the horror may not have been his fault but it was his responsibility; and so effectively asked him to fall on his sword (which he did, for £400,000). Lord Carrington, over the Falklands, was the last Minister to accept responsibility for failure even though he was not at fault; we must be grateful to Boris Johnson for bringing such a sense of honour back to British politics.
W B McBride
You don't need to carry a torch for the Met to find some of the anti-police invective nauseating (letters, 15 December).
It is because the public has been fooled for so long into believing that all risk can be eliminated from life by government that the police were obliged to act as they did. When the total safety of the public becomes the only factor that matters, mistakes will happen.
Mr De Menezes was not murdered, notwithstanding the ravings of some of your more unhinged correspondents. He was killed by mistake; and a mistake with tragic consequences is still a mistake, just as an accident with a tragic outcome is no less an accident for that.
It is sad that the public has followed the media's lead on this. In this, as so many other issues, no matter how complex, the same three questions are trotted out: "Whose fault is it?", "What can we learn from it?", and "How can we make sure it never happens again?" The public seems unwilling to believe that sometimes the true answers are "Nobody's", "Nothing", and "We can't".
St Helena needs work, not whimsy
Philip Hensher's commentary on St Helena ("Some places are meant to be hard to be reach", 11 December ) was both whimsical and humorous. If only the people of St Helena could see the funny side. The UK government's decision to "pause" negotiations with the potential builder of our proposed new airport will lead to a further delay in providing us with the means to acquire greater self-sufficiency through economic development and reduce our dependence on the UK. It is a very short-sighted decision.
Yes, we are "development-eager". We're eager to welcome back our young people who have left the island in search of work. They represent our future. We're also eager to end the choice our Health Department has to make in deciding which of our seriously ill patients we can afford to send abroad for further treatment. And, yes, we're also eager to show off our beautiful island to visitors.
Many places have established air access without destroying their unique way of life. The plans for the airport on St Helena went through a planning process every bit as robust as in the UK, including an environmental impact study involving, among others, the RSPB.
St Helena is an overseas territory of the UK. Its citizens are British citizens who wish to demonstrate that we can stand on our own feet. After seven years of waiting and innumerable reports and deliberations, all we ask is the chance to do so.
United Kingdom Representative, Government of St Helena
Philip Hensher's comment gives support for the romantic view that some remote places should be left untainted by the modern world. We in St Helena are more realistic. We need a wealth-creating economy, more jobs, less dependence on government hand-outs and the opportunity to determine our own future.
Without the opportunity offered by airport construction to develop our tourism-based economy the future is bleak.
This island has several globally significant and unique sites connected with 17th- to 19th-century maritime history, Napoleonic history and the emancipation of slaves, and a multiplicity of rare and endangered flora and fauna.
We already have a steady trickle of visitors. A 10-hour flight from the UK instead of a 14-day sea voyage offers the opportunity for this trickle to become a flow. At present there is no economy, no opportunity, no future and certainly no romanticism.
Parents forced to neglect children
Deborah Orr is right when she says: "The truth is, only money can alleviate poverty, but it should not go to neglectful parents" (Opinion, 10 December). But is not the Government, by using benefits to force parents to go out to work, forcing them to be neglectful of their children? Parents cannot be out working and at the same time form essential family relations. Care by others can never help to build these relationships.
David M Bishop
Good news! Tiny Tim will get a Christmas this year as long as he doesn't upset Mr Purnell over at the workhouse and makes sure he is "actively looking for a job" or picks up litter in the park all day. Fair rules for all! Tough but fair! God Bless New Labour, God bless ye one and all!
Chris Padley comments on people who make a career of having children, supported by social security (letter, 10 December). When I was teaching in inner London, in the late 1960s, the school head told me she would be leaving early one afternoon to go to the local health centre. It transpired that staff there were having "a sterilisation party" to celebrate the fact that they had persuaded Mrs X to "have the cut". All associated agencies had been invited.
As the teacher of Mrs X's sixth child, as foul-mouthed and disobedient as the others, I, like my colleagues, breathed a sigh of relief that this particular family tree had at last been axed.
Could not single parents be employed by the Government as child-minders to their own children?
Eating less fat can make you less fat
There are many confusing issues around dietary fat, but Jerome Burne (9 December) does little to clarify them. His statement that "polyunsaturates fitted the low-fat mantra" exemplifies the difficulties. The different types of fat in our diet – saturated, mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated – have nothing to do with the total amount of fat.
There is no evidence that different types of fat in the diet influence body weight. Polyunsaturated (often called "healthy") fat is no less "fattening" than saturated fat. Where they differ is in their effects on risk of heart disease: saturated fat raises cholesterol levels, increasing heart-disease risk, while polyunsaturated will lower cholesterol; but that is a separate issue.
It is not always true that a low-fat diet will be "less fattening" than a high-fat one: it depends what replaces the fat. As Burne implies, many low-fat foods are rich in sugar and may have just as much energy per gramme as do higher-fat foods. But no nutritionist would call a diet providing "the equivalent of 60 teaspoons of sugar a day" a "healthy, balanced diet" as Burne asserts. If the fat is instead replaced by complex carbohydrates, such as in bread, rice and potatoes, the energy content is generally much lower.
In fact, the scientific evidence largely supports the view that reduction in the fat content of diet assists weight loss, or at least weight control. Two large meta-analyses of diet studies in recent years have shown strong evidence that low-fat diets can help with weight loss. Guidelines for healthy eating, such as those promulgated by the Food Standards Agency, are based on considerable research.
Keith Frayn, Professor of Human Metabolism
Karin Harnden, Research Dietitian
University of Oxford
Islam, sanity and compromise
Ainslie Walton (letter, 4 December) seems to believe that the most friendly form of Islam must be the most authentic. But maybe that isn't so: maybe their theology does endorse wildly excessive claims. Surely our task is not to convince them theologically that they don't deserve what they think they do but to convince them politically that they can't have all they want, while not refusing them what is justly their due.
These are the twin objectives of all negotiation. People don't cease to deserve what is genuinely their due because of a false belief about another matter. If Muslims offer us good reason for Muslim sovereignty in Kashmir we can't just reply, "Purge your theology! Go away till you stop yearning for Andalusia."
Claims to long-lost sovereignty may be too dependent on theology, but they aren't signs that all sanity is lost. Jewish yearning for long-lost sovereignty over the Holy Land is often regarded as morally admirable.
Neutral Ireland favoured Allies
W R Haines (letter, 8 December) may be correct that "thousands of lives were lost" as a result of De Valera's refusal to allow Shannon airport to become an allied airbase.
Neutrality was of paramount importance to "Dev" and allowing combatants to use Irish territory would have compromised this. However, De Valera was prepared to push the boundaries and be "neutral towards the Allies" by passing on military information and by swiftly repatriating Allied service personnel (whereas German counterparts were interned). It must also be remembered that De Valera sent fire brigade services to Belfast during the 1941 bombing raids.
Bury, Greater Manchester
Variety adds spice to exercise
In "Just like the wheel thing" (9 December) Simon Usborne quotes me as implying that the introduction of new exercise equipment to gyms is nothing more than a fad. This could not be further from the truth. Equipment such as Power Plate can have profound physiological benefits and is therefore a valuable addition to any gym.
Having a variety of different exercise equipment gives members a choice and allows them to opt for an activity which interests them and allows them to develop a balanced programme.
CEO, Fitness Industry Association London NW5
The shoe fits
As an Arab-American, I want to express my profound gratitude to the Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi. The shoes and insults lobbed at George Bush were the humiliating spectacle many of us yearned for. As he prepares to leave office on 20 January, there can be no more fitting tribute than a volley of shoes to welcome his departure.
Your article "Sale of the century" (11 December), on the closure of Woolies, reported: " 'The staff were just told 10 minutes ago that all hope is gone,' said the young man at the till, with heavy melodrama, demonstrating a sense of irony you might not have anticipated from a shop assistant at Woolies." It's bad enough losing your job without being patronised by a national newspaper as well.
Swiss show the way
On Friday that fiercely independent non-EU member Switzerland fully opened its borders to the EU by joining the Schengen area. When is our government going to set British citizens free by doing the same, rather than fencing us in with ever more security-obsessed restrictions?
"I think we should do something better in 2009 than just celebrate Darwin," says his great-great-grandchild, Ruth Padel (12 December). I couldn't agree more. Let's also mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Lamarck's Philosophie Zoologique – the most revolutionary book about evolution ever written. Let's also acknowledge that, after 200 years of having been generally believed to have got evolution theory wrong, the science of epigenetics is now showing that Lamarck got it right, as a small minority of evolutionists have believed all along. Let's celebrate Lamarck in 2009.
In my capacity as a university lecturer I have become aware of the overuse of the word "well" by young people (letter, 12 December). My favourite example concerns the student who excused her friend's absence from my tutorial on the grounds that he was "well ill".
Dr Alfred Venables