Letters: Perspectives on banning masks

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The Independent Online

Stop grandstanding and use the law we already have

It seems a shame that before his grandstanding about face masks to try and appear tough on disorder, David Cameron didn't think to check with lawyers or the police first.

A police officer of the rank of inspector or above can issue an order under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to give police officers additional search powers, if he believes that an incident involving serious violence may occur. These powers include the power to demand that people remove any items – including hats and masks, that that are being worn to conceal their identity. They can even confiscate such items.

We found this out last year when a friend's nine-year-old daughter was told by a police officer to remove a Disney mask she was wearing. If a group of children on their way to a Hallowe'en party fall foul of these regulations, then surely a group of rioting morons would be covered.

If Section 60 orders aren't being issued, surely the Prime Minister should be asking why, rather than trying to appear tough for the media.

Jo Selwood, Thatcham, Berkshire

Drop the mask for all, including Muslim women

In view of the Prime Minister's parliamentary statement that the police will be given powers to ban suspected criminals from concealing their faces in public, it is now the perfect time to implement a comprehensive proscription on all forms of facial covering in the UK.

It is utterly sexist and completely discriminatory that burka-clad Muslim women are permitted to remain anonymous and conceal their identity in public on wholly spurious "religious" grounds, but other people of different faith and sex will not be allowed the same liberty. Either all types of public face-masking for both genders should be prohibited or none. Muslims who claim that face-masked women are not engaging in criminality should be reminded that these largely indoctrinated females only perpetuate social apartheid and community exclusion while harming their own health and bringing Islam into grave disrepute.

It is high time that British legislation renders all types of public facial masking, for whatever pretext, illegal. Following the riots in England, Mr Cameron and the Government have a golden opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by banning all face-masks: tackling feral criminality and inhibiting Muslim segregationism.

Dr T Hargey, Chairman, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford

In that period of soul-searching that typically follows any instance of social upheaval, we shall no doubt hear many explanations for the events that overtook the streets of Britain last week. One which will surely elbow its way to the front is the notion that, in some ill-defined sense, the disaffected youth of this country have been denied any "hope".

What hope is that, precisely? Is it the hope that, despite having set one's face against the acquisition of even the most elementary formal qualifications in literacy and numeracy, or of basic English language or personal skills, one should be able to find an employer who will offer one employment in preference to buying a fork-lift or taking on a migrant?

Even as late as the 1980s the relative prices of capital and labour in the UK favoured those with low skills and a willingness to work, over expensive machines. That factor-price ratio has now changed, probably for ever. Globalisation, technological advances and a downward rigidity in the wage that is deemed "acceptable" in the UK mean that the mass-produced merchandise that so appeals to street thieves can no longer be produced economically in this country. The relatively low-skill jobs that are involved in such manufacturing are the preserve of people who are willing to work for less than their counterparts in the UK, and to do so more reliably. The future of UK manufacturing will increasingly lie in goods and services embodying training and skills.

Those who wish to have any hope at all should first be clear about their aspirations.

R Rothschild, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Lancaster

I was startled to see Mark Miller's letter (16 August) about Trevor Ellis. It is surely the quality of parenting that makes the difference to how children grow up; here we have a father who clearly acknowledged all his children. I can fully accept the description of him as a model parent until I am shown evidence that he failed any of his children.

What of the number of children of two working parents who are farmed out on a variety of carers and rarely see their parents at all? What about the vast number of single mothers who do a great job? There are any number of models of parenthood, and all succeed at times and fail at times. And that includes traditional two-parent families – many of the rioters came from apparently stable two-parent homes.

So, no, I don't think there is any connection between the "acceptance of such standards... and some of the recent anti-social behaviour". There may well be a connection with poor parenting – in all types of families. And there may not.

Elspeth Christie, Kirkhaugh, Northumberland

Successive governments have damaged the social infrastructure that used to enable some of the grievances felt by the relatively poor to have voice. They have undermined trades unions and local government, and they have replaced representative democracy with an inward-looking, self-reproducing political class that fails to represent not only the poor but also those who are employed in or run business, and sits on the fence in order to secure election.

Widespread revulsion at the consequential fiddling of expenses by MPs and whiff of corruption surrounding relations between the media and politicians should be the spur for radical renewal of our democracy.

The August riots raise significant questions.

Paul Bellaby, Buxton, Derbyshire

The wanton pursuit of greed seen on the streets last week should not be a shock to the Government. For it was our politicians of only two decades ago who set up the National Lottery with its inbuilt message that enough is never enough. And – surprise, surprise – the message got through.

In my view, the Lottery is a cynical exploitation of the poor, since they are more likely to spend a disproportionate percentage of their income on tickets in the remotest hope of an obscene, multi-million-pounds jackpot.

The avaricious chicken our politicians hatched is coming home to roost.

Daniel Sutherland, Edinburgh

Now that Mr Cameron has declared that society is broken, does he still want to make it bigger?

Bob Morgan, Thatcham, Berkshire

Teach all our children to read

Despite having spent my career in law-enforcement I have little time for the hang- 'em-and-flog-'em brigade, especially when in full cry after the latest civil disturbances. The solutions generally on offer are mostly simplistic and attack symptoms rather than causes.

Dominic Lawson highlights the most significant point in his 16 August article when drawing attention to the very poor literacy rates of a majority of those involved. For all my career this always was and still is even more true of the prison population.

Yet we already know what works, the solution is available. We already have any number of schemes that teach reading very effectively. We only need to provide properly trained teachers in sufficient numbers to produce pupil-teacher ratios at least equal to those offered in public schools. What is lacking is the political will to commit the resources necessary to implement such schemes in all schools at a level which will not allow anyone to leave school with a reading and writing age below their calendar age.

When politicians can find almost unlimited resources to fight optional wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and are forced to find resources to clean up after riots, why can't we provide this most basic of educational outcomes?

Despite the rhetoric, politicians are still most concerned with what will win them the next election, and a reading revolution which will only begin to deliver after 2015 slips off the radar.

So who will demonstrate the leadership to put political self-interest aside and commit to capturing the Sure Start generation as they enter secondary school and ensure that by 2020 no child leaves school with a reading or writing age less than 16? It can be done.

Paul Rowlandson, Bristol

Who really deserves jail?

When they are in prison, many young rioters will have the opportunity of meeting former members of the House of Commons and current members of the House of Lords guilty of defrauding the tax-payer by inflating or fabricating their expenses claims.

One imagines both sides will be eager to discuss the slow-motion decay of the moral fabric of the nation, and to determine whether it spread from the lower orders to the upper ones, or vice versa.

In the cosmic scheme of things, it is difficult to say whether it is worse to steal a television when you cannot afford it, or to put in a claim for having your wisteria trimmed when you can.

David L. Parris, Pleslin-Trigavou, Brittany, France

When a boy is remanded in custody for stealing two scoops of ice cream during the riots you know things have gone too far. We cannot criminalise thousands of young people and not expect serious consequences in the future. There must be a better solution than this draconian sentencing.

Dr Michael Paraskos, London SE27

A smack could save worse later

In your Saturday leading article on the recent riots you ask whether we want to arm teachers with belts and canes. You imply that their pupils will be cowering in fear. The problem is there are many parents and teachers who cower in fear from pupils. I have seen for myself that female teachers are particularly under threat in a tough inner-city boys' school.

One of the issues brought to light in the riots was the impotence felt by parents, in particular fathers, to rein in their offspring. When I hear my son's friend has smashed his gran in the mouth and given her 10 stitches for the crime of looking after him, then the right for a child not to be smacked is, probably, a liberty too far. He has ended up in a young offenders' institution.

What is the point of being soft, soft, soft and then the plastic bullet? I know my fellow correspondents like to have fun with clichés. What about this one? A stitch in time saves nine.

Daren Brooker, Portsmouth

Syria shells its own people

Years ago, I spent some time in Lattakia. It is a pleasant, bustling seaside town, where one can enjoy typical Syrian hubbly-bubbly cafés, swim in the Med, and so on. Or rather, it was. Now, incredibly, Lattakia is being shelled, day after day, from both land and sea.

How many more outrages is it going to take before the UN Security Council issues a clear condemnation of the Syrian government for criminal violence against its own people? And before our own government and the EU put serious sanctions in place against all Syrian businesses with any connections to the Assad regime?

Rupert Read, East of England Green Party Co-ordinator, Norwich

The murder and mayhem in Syria continue despite vocal condemnation by Britain and other countries. When is H M Government going to demonstrate its outrage – rather than merely talk about it – by, say, expelling the Syrian ambassador to Britain or recalling Britain's ambassador to Syria, and encouraging other countries to do similarly.

Clive Hyman, London NW11

Rehab is not the only route

Nina Lakhani's plea for more rehabilitation for young addicts ("Rehab needs a fix", 3 August) gave a one-sided view of the state of drug treatment and recovery services.

Any adult who needs help with a drug problem will receive it through their GP or a community service. Treatment typically consists of talking therapies and other psychosocial interventions, and prescribed medication specifically for heroin addicts. Official statistics show 94 per cent wait less than three weeks to start treatment. What's important is that the type of therapy is right for the individual, not the particular setting in which it is delivered.

A spell away from home in residential rehab is a valuable option in the full spectrum of services, and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) recommends it in the most serious cases. However, Nice also concludes that there is no robust evidence that residential settings are superior to community-based services, particularly given the additional costs.

In the case of heroin addicts, who form 80 per cent of those in treatment, Nice is clear that medication to wean them off drugs is the preferred method. This has the added advantage that it is better for everyone else that a heroin addict gets a safe methadone prescription from a doctor rather than robbing or stealing to buy street heroin from a dealer.

There are about 120 rehabs in England, with more than 2,000 beds and an average occupancy of 80 per cent. This compares with 1,200 NHS and voluntary-sector community services meeting the needs of over 200,000 patients every year. Nina Lakhani is right that some rehabs have closed, but others are opening. Some struggle to attract clients, but others are full. The sector is changing rapidly, as the traditional model of the "big house in the country" is challenged by successful new services in inner-city settings, giving more addicts a chance to overcome dependency within their own community and making it more likely that they will sustain their recovery.

The overall number of people successfully beating their addiction is increasing year on year. Rather than the 8,000 a year implied by Ms Lakhani, almost 24,000 successfully overcome dependency in 2009-10 and we anticipate this will increase to 28,000 in 2010-11.

Paul Hayes, CEO, National treatment Agency for Substance misuse, London SE1

A lot to learn about cycling

On Sunday I went to central London to watch the finish of the road cycling test event which was won by Mark Cavendish of Great Britain. Given that there was a two-page spread about traffic problems caused by road closures for the event I expected to find a decent report of the race in the sports pages. There were only two tiny paragraphs.

When the London Marathon is on there aren't pages dedicated to the traffic jams it causes. On the Continent the public get out of their cars to watch passing cycle races. It would seem this country still has a lot to learn about the sport of cycling, despite Britain's recent success.

Ben Steere, Croxley Green, Hertfordshire

Many motorists may have "fumed" about being delayed by the cycling, but I should point out that over 100,000 residents of south-west London and Surrey thoroughly enjoyed the day. Silence, uncluttered roads being enjoyed by walkers and casual cyclists, impromptu al fresco breakfasts along the route, the excitement and spectacle of the race .... Bring on the real thing.

Chris Evans, Teddington, Middlesex

Some of your correspondents have suggested that the wearing of cycle helmets could cause an increase in accidents, by giving cyclists a false sense of safety. How does this argument transfer to motorists? Could it be that safety belts, side impact bars etc all give an impression of invulnerability and strength, leading motorists to take risks with the lives those road-users they see as weaker?

Ann Smith, Deputy Director, Liverpool Confucius Institute, University of Liverpool

House inflation

I take issue with Eddie Webb (letter, 16 August) when he says that we are all happy to see our house values spiral. The result is that our children are barred from entering the housing market. Yet again the banks are to blame. Making bigger mortgages easier to obtain by providing large multiples of income as the sum that can be borrowed is the main driver of house-price inflation. Houses cost what people can borrow.

Derek Brundish, Horsham, West Sussex

Cliché corner

Here's the thing: the correspondence was spiralling out of control, and the letters editor had no option but to deliver a solution in the form of a clampdown which could be rolled out across the board. Job done!

Polly Fallows, Manchester