Letters: Mental Health Bill

The Mental Health Bill will protect the public and save lives
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Sir, Your editorial on the killing of Denis Finnegan ("Draconian Legislation is not the answer", 17 November) misrepresents proposed new laws. The centrepiece is a Community Treatment Order. It would allow formerly detained patients who pose a risk to be compelled to take the medication that keeps them well, or face a return to hospital for treatment. All the safeguards that surround detention would apply to this Order so there is no reason to expect it to lead to locking up more mentally ill people. On the contrary, it may reduce detention rates. It should allow safe treatment in the community for a minority of mentally ill people who spend their lives going through the revolving doors of prison, hospital, community, then back to prison when they relapse.

It is not "instant legislation". The present Mental Health Act is nearly 25 years old and was passed at a time when doctors believed (wrongly) that there was no association between violence and mental illness. The Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide shows that schizophrenia is found in 1 per cent of the population but in 5 per cent of perpetrators of homicide. Most people with schizophrenia are not violent, but our legislation must first and foremost meet the needs of the minority who may find themselves among that 5 per cent if not properly treated.

The proposed changes have been debated for more than eight years, during which time about 400 homicides have been committed by mentally ill people in England and Wales - a horrifying statistic, because the Confidential Inquiry also found that better compliance with medication was the factor most commonly identified as likely to have averted the killing. The lamentably slow progress has been due mainly to scaremongering by pressure groups or professionals with vested interests.

The Barrett report mentioned Community Treatment Orders (favourably) only in passing because the issue was not central in that case. But one of the report's main conclusions was that the professional culture placed too high a value on the patient's wishes rather than protecting the public. A patient with schizophrenia and a history of violence needs medication as a diabetic needs insulin, and stopping it should be just as unthinkable.



Hunt law-breakers must be prosecuted

Sir: An Independent reporter rides out with a couple of hunts ("Hunt followers ride roughshod over failing law", 20 November) and you conclude that the Hunting Act should be repealed after a couple of years.

Following this logic we ought to repeal the Theft Act as I'm sure any one of your reporters would have little problem showing it is routinely violated. Or what about the Race Relations or Equal Opportunities Acts which, excellent though they are, have failed to totally eliminate race and gender discrimination?

Parliament voted by a significant majority to ban hunting; there was, and remains, popular support for the ban. The problem is that some hunters, as demonstrated by your excellent report, think they are above the law. They are not, as the conviction of Exmoor huntsman Tony Wright shows. Three further prosecutions under the Hunting Act are now proceeding; two brought by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, one by the League Against Cruel Sports. There will be many more, of that I have no doubt.

The Hunting Act is now a law-and-order issue. Your report accurately demonstrates that a minority of hunters are determined to break the law; indeed you quote several. The quotes are anonymous but it doesn't need a Sherlock Holmes to identify the hunts involved. No Chief Constable can allow his and his force's authority to be challenged in this way and I anticipate appropriate action will be taken.



Sir: Your leading article (November 20) states that the law to ban hunting has failed and that "foxes are still being killed in their thousands", implying that the law was intended to stop foxes being killed. It was not. The legislation was introduced simply to prevent foxes being killed by a pack of hounds; any other method is still acceptable. Foxes will always be "slaughtered" because they are pests (officially). Hunting with hounds is one of the most efficient methods of culling foxes (and a kinder method than trapping), which is why so many farmers still invite the hunts onto their land.



Sir: Anyone who lives outside the warped universe of the Countryside Alliance will have been shocked and appalled by your front-page article.

We hunt monitors have known from day one that the overbearing attitude of the hunting fraternity would go into overdrive to exploit a law that was not strong enough to contain their particular brand of arrogance. We were shocked to discover that the police, who in pre-ban days could turn out in force at the suggestion of any hunt-saboteur activity, would suddenly find hunting matters were of no concern to them whatsoever, and that we unprotected monitors were the ones who must brave the hostility of law-breaking hunts.

MPs must urgently address the weaknesses in the Hunting Act so it is no longer a vehicle for ruthless exploitation by law breakers.



Sir: Your leading article on foxhunting uses language like "tear an exhausted animal from limb to limb". I was the son of a threshing contractor in the early Fifties and after that my family had a small farm and I have seen dogs kill many times. They always kill as quickly as they can to avoid getting bitten themselves.

Perhaps you could use emotive language to describe how a cat kills (often very slowly), describe how slow poisoning is, not to mention road injuries, but these all happen to at least as great an extent in an urban situation - so that is alright.

I realise it is fashionable to smirk at country people but you could try to look beyond the emotive phrase.



Sir: The idea of hunting with dogs is distasteful to me but I wonder at the purpose of banning it when it appears impossible to police properly. One of the more sensible laws of this government was to ban the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving, but this is constantly and blatantly flouted, endangering human life. The time and effort of the authorities would be better spent enforcing this law instead of the ban on hunting with hounds.



Sir: Surely a law is not "unenforcable" because the police are in collusion with those who break it: it is simply "unenforced".



Airlines' freedom to pollute the skies

Sir: We spent Sunday afternoon at a sports event at Brunel University. As the afternoon progressed, what had been a clear blue sky steadily filled with jet vapour trails. By four, the sky from horizon to horizon was dark with jet trails as the great planes thundered into and out of Heathrow. Above us, unseen, were perhaps thousands of tons of newly created carbon dioxide. If I had dropped a sweet wrapper on the high street I would rightly have been penalised heavily. Yet we seem happy to litter the sky over the entire south-east of England.

That same morning a transport study group warned that our airports might run out of runways very soon and that the economic "health" of the nation relies on growth of air transport. There are degrees of stupidity, the worst of which blend into madness.



Sir: Your headline "Eurostar targets green market" (Business, 15 November) is at odds with some of the company's recent decisions.

Eurostar has decided to delay the opening of Stratford International until 2012; Ebbsfleet will have parking for thousands of cars but no direct foot access to nearby Northfleet station on the North Kent line; Ashford is to be served by far fewer trains and possibly abandoned altogether. Connexions into Thalys services at Brussels have always been dodgy and are getting worse.

There will soon be continuous high-speed rails from London to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Marseille, but the company currently has no firm plans for through running beyond Paris and Brussels, apart from a few token seasonal trains to Avignon and Bourg St Maurice.

A great many people now want to avoid flying for several good reasons; Eurostar could do a lot more to help us to travel greenly.



Time to end British investment in Burma

Sir: Your leading article on unscrupulous investments (18 November) is absolutely right to say that the West must raise investment in Burma with India and China, but we must also put our own house in order.

Despite a pre-1997 election promise to do so, the British government has still not taken action to ban British companies from investing in Burma. Nor has it taken action to stop foreign companies investing in Burma via British Overseas Territories. This is why Britain is ranked as the second-largest investor in Burma since the 1988 democracy uprising. The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and other main political parties have all backed an investment ban, as have more than 100 Labour backbenchers. Despite this, and constant appeals from Burma's democracy movement, the Government refuses to act. What credibility will the Government have with China and India when it refuses to ban investment itself?



Should Israel use human shields too?

Sir: Would those noble Palestinians who have been acting as human shields for those whom you so politely call "militants" (report, 20 November) please volunteer their humanitarian services to the homes, schools, and synagogues of Israeli civilians at risk from air attack by Qassam rockets or land assaults by suicide bombers? Is it that it's an act of moral courage to shelter a terrorist firing on civilians, but it would be infra dig to protect those same civilians? I don't suppose that, if Israeli civilians were to gather round one another's houses, the Palestinians might call off their attacks?



The mysteries of the handbag

Sir: Howard Jacobson description of handbags as "a sanctum of female mystery never to be violated by a man" (18 November) reminds me of lunching in a pub in Sutton Scotney some time ago. We were over 80 miles away before I realised I had left my handbag there. But to my delight, on telephoning the pub, I learned it had been handed in and I asked the innkeeper to hold it until I came again in two weeks' time.

On further thought I wrote and asked him just to take out the plastic card in the side pocket and post it to me in the SAE enclosed. By return post came a beautifully wrapped parcel containing my handbag with a note saying "I do not open ladies' handbags."



Iraq: a disaster foreseen

Sir: Tony Blair's spokesmen have tried to play down the gaffe he made, during the interview with David Frost, by trying to claim that the "disaster" of Iraq is the combined fault of al- Qa'ida, the insurgents, and any other organisation on to which he can shift blame for the post-invasion fiasco (leading article, 20 November). Several million of us in the UK foresaw that this disaster was likely to occur. We demonstrated in the streets, wrote letters, and agonised over the folly of the illegal Bush/ Blair invasion of Iraq. We could see it. Why couldn't he?



Sir: In speaking about the present "disastrous" situation in Iraq, Lord Blair of Belmarsh says that "the will of the minority for war is ousting the will of the majority for peace". Just as it was in the UK in March 2003, presumably?



Flying vegetables

Sir: Fresh vegetables from Egypt and elsewhere are carried as supplemental belly-hold cargo on passenger aircraft, which would be flying whether there were any potatoes in the hold or not. The amount of extra atmospheric pollution caused by the weight of the produce is probably less than that generated by ships' engines when calculated over time from departure to destination.



Depressed sportsmen

Sir: I appreciated Maxine Frith's article (16 November) about stress-related illnesses in sport, but one element she failed to mention is the role of the media in ratcheting up the pressure on players.

I travel widely for work, and often read the European press. I seldom find there the negativity so regularly found in the British media. Barça perform badly, and the Spanish papers say so, but the overall tone of reporting is supportive. England perform badly, and the vitriol is poured liberally; this endless pressure to be perfect can only contribute to the increase of depressive illness in sport.



Well-versed doctors

Sir: Like David Lister (18 November) I have picked up and read "Poems in the Waiting Room" on many occasions. The Arts Council says it can no longer support "Poems... ", but a glance at its website reveals vacancies for "Diversity Officers" and numerous other posts offering salaries of up to £40,000 p.a. The same site states that the Arts Council spent £400m in 2005. Surely the Council could find a way of maintaining "Poems in the Waiting Room" which, I understand, costs less than £30,000?



Jack the Ripper's face

Sir: The headline "Could this e-fit be the real face of Jack the Ripper?" (report, 20 November) would be more accurate, if less sensational, if it read "This e-fit is almost certainly NOT the real face of Jack the Ripper".