Letters: Perspectives on seeking law-enforcement advice from the US

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The Independent Online

Zero tolerance? Not easy with zero funding

The budget reductions for the Home Office and Justice Ministry make David Cameron's planned campaign of "zero tolerance" policing facile. To conduct such a campaign would require hundreds of millions of pounds of additional funding.

Compared to Britain's 87,000 prison places there are over 2.3 million in the US. Americans live in a state where the citizen is kept in line by the knowledge that offences such as failing to fasten your seat belt could result in a handcuffed arrest and a police record. This is a true example of the arrest of a mother in Texas whose two children of five and three witnessed her being arrested and handcuffed.

George D Lewis, Brackley, Northamptonshire

Do we really want to shoot looters dead?

I lived for 35 years in the US, mainly northern California, and I well remember the LA riots when they occurred.

There are two important differences between what happened in the US and what has happened here. Many people died in LA as the result of a policy of shooting looters. If this occurred here, we would all be appalled – but it was accepted without question in the US.

Secondly, that so many local people in Britain came out to clear up afterwards indicates a sense of community that is absent in the US. No middle-class person would have dreamt of entering the poor black area where the riots occurred.

Our culture is far closer to the rest of Europe. If we need to take advice from other countries, then it is to Europe that we should look first. The last thing we need is to invite super-cop Bill Bratton from the US to tell our government what to do.

John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire

British way of policing worked

I believe the police are to be commended for adjusting their tactics so quickly, especially in view of the number of forces needing to be requested to supply the extra officers.

The tactics worked, the riots fizzled out, the police nowhere exceeded the use of reasonable force, in spite of a lack of suitable riot gear in some cases, and have continued to trace and arrest the perpetrators.

I believe the restraint shown in the face of considerable personal danger has been in no small measure responsible for the willingness of some of the offenders to give themselves up and for parents to bring their children in to face up to their crimes.

Having spent time in the USA, I firmly believe that the approach in this country is much to be preferred to that which I have observed across the Atlantic.

Lily G W Turner, St Albans, Hertfordshire

We need American common sense

Half the problem with our police force, sad to say, is that they're too used to beating up the wrong guy. We've seen that with the kettling of well-behaved protesters. But when the police are confronted with a crowd who are arriving in lines of cars to empty a warehouse after smashing the doors in, as I understand happened near to the O2 arena, and where a gang of 40 were involved, they suddenly become all risk-averse.

Humbling as it might be, if it takes an American to show how to apply a bit of common sense then let's get him in.

Paul Dunwell, Alton, Hampshire

Riots, wars, inflation: all in it together as the country goes mad

The police are investigating criminality by sections of the media. Senior politicians had very close personal ties to arrested media personnel. Senior politicians are castigating the police and vice versa. The police and media have been investigating criminality by politicians.

People riot and loot. We are probably heading into a second recession or depression, caused by greed on the part of financial institutions and the utter failure of the past four prime ministers to comprehend the vast debts citizens were encouraged to incur in buying houses and using plastic cards.

We have just extricated ourselves from a devastating war in Iraq; we are fighting two wars, one for 10 years, the other one year, yet large sections of the community don't understand why we are involved in any of them.

Inflation is rampant. The bankers are rewarding themselves with record salaries which the Government is unable or unwilling to tax – indeed, they want to reduce the top rate of tax.

Few can understand how a university student will be able to repay education costs approaching £100,000 at the same time as buying a house and starting a family.

But we are told that we are "all in this together". And a youth is given a nine-month referral order and ordered to pay £85 costs for stealing a pack of chewing gum.

Am I on the moon?

Mark Bretscher, Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire

It was good to see a page devoted to "heroes" in The Independent (11 August). It is unfortunate that the general political and media response to the riots has so far covered the rioters at great length but spent far less time on those who have not rioted and on those who have opposed and cleaned up after rioters.

Half a million people in England's fourth largest city, Sheffield, have not rioted, and many individuals in London and elsewhere have tried to stop riots, while many thousands have turned out to clean up and repair. Why have politicians, in general, not spent more time highlighting the way people have worked together, and promoting the positive examples, as indicators of the way we want society to be?

Equally, why has there not been much more emphasis on the need for the rioters to restore what they have destroyed, both socially and physically? In the UK and elsewhere there are excellent examples of offenders helping make good the problems they have created. Focusing on the need for offenders to restore what they have harmed as well as on the need to punish them would be much more likely to create the decent co-operative society that is actually at the heart of everyday UK.

Peter Marsh, Professor of Child and Family Welfare, University of Sheffield

The price of inequality

Everyone agrees that the rioters who looted and burnt buildings have to be punished. What is worrying is the rush to judge many in our society as simply lacking morals without attempting to understand the underlying causes.

In 2009 Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett from the Equality Trust launched the book The Spirit Level, compiling the findings of 30 years of research which proves, among other things, that infant mortality, life expectancy, violence and school bullying are all worse in more unequal societies. Even David Cameron quoted their work in a speech about tackling poverty and inequality. The only problem is that he had no intention of tackling the problems.

Half of the UK population now own just 1 per cent of the country's cash, while the wealthiest 20 per cent own a massive 84 per cent of Britain's wealth. We all agree there has to be a policy debate and the challenge therefore is how to take forward these findings, but with 23 millionaires sitting round the Cabinet table, the real challenge is persuading our elite to act against their own interests in pursuit of a fairer society.

Mark Murton, Wallington, Surrey

Surely a major contributing factor to the riots has been the massive rise in property prices over the past 20 years. Now not even well-paid 30-something professionals cannot afford to buy a tiny flat in one of the more salubrious areas of London without parental backing – so what chance do the undereducated "underclass" have?

Of course, the main problem is that most people own their homes, so always want property prices to spiral ever upwards to get "free money" – rather like the "free stuff" the looters wanted, actually.

Everybody who has enjoyed profiting from insane property price increases in recent years is partly to blame for the present divisions in society which caused the riots. Perhaps a tax on buy-to-let properties could partly pay for the clean-up?

Eddie Webb, London SE10

The Chancellor wants to abolish the 50 per cent income tax rate. He should do just the opposite, increasing it to 60 per cent and, as the Liberal Democrats want, raise the taxation threshold.

Although the fiscal benefits of this are debatable, the effect on the underprivileged in our society would be dramatic. It is not just the people rioting in our cities who feel that they are not a part of our society, but a large number who silently feel aggrieved.

John Hamilton, Crowhurst, East Sussex

The defence of his right to riches offered by your correspondent Phillip Hilling (9 August) would be valid if the wealth acquired were proportional to the effort put into getting it.

Unfortunately this is often not the case. Many people, even in prosperous societies such as ours, work long hours for low pay, and in many developing countries poor workers toiling in appalling conditions are at starvation point through no fault of their own. And much has been said in recent months about the undeserving rich.

The most contented societies are those in which there is least difference between the wealth of the richest and poorest. Huge effort which benefits society may entitle a person to a slightly larger share of the cake, but is anyone worth more than, say, 20 times the minimum wage?

Susan Alexander, Frampton Cotterell, Gloucestershire

Taxpayers' contract

Howard Jacobson says: "They may be criminals, but we're the ones who created them" (Opinion, 13 August). I say: "Rubbish."

Like a large part of the population, I work hard, pay my taxes, support my family and make charitable donations to good causes (including Crisis). I also own a small business and ensure that I pay on time corporation tax, VAT and employer's NI. That's my side of the deal.

In return, I expect my elected politicians to run the country's finances efficiently (not wasting billions on abortive IT projects or inept military procurement), to pursue social policies which strengthen our country, to ensure that criminal behaviour at any level is punished and to run the apparatus of government properly. That's their side of the deal.

Paul Rex, Hook, Hampshire

What good are bankers?

Xavier Gallagher argues that looting ought not to be likened to banking since the latter generates billions of pounds of tax revenue from its profits (Letters, 13 August). It should not need to be pointed out that acquiring profit at the expense of others is not the same as generating social value, it is merely transferring it.

To defend finance capital on the grounds of its contribution to the funding of public services is a grotesque irony, and is surely an indication of the extent to which the dominant discourse has obscured underlying economic realities.

Francis Jackson, London SE1

Reading the letter from Xavier Gallagher, pointing out the benefit to the country of the billions in taxes paid by bankers, I had a sudden inspiration. If only the Government were to pay all state employees a million pounds a year, think of the billions of taxes that would result, to benefit us all.

Harry Wilkinson, Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Tough life for the tattie-howkers

I've followed recent correspondence about potato harvesting with interest and agree that, certainly in my youth in the 1940s and 1950s, potatoes were lifted by an implement pulled behind a tractor and were then picked by hand by gangs of workers following behind.

These pickers were known in Scotland as "tattie-howkers" and were immortalised in at least one song I remember being sung by my family and some of their friends which went as follows:

"Wha' saw the tattie-howkers?/ Wha' saw them gang awa'?/ Wha' saw the tattie-howkers/ Comin' doon the Broomielaw?

"Some o' them had picks and shovels./ Some o' them had nane at a'./ Wha' saw the tattie-howkers/ Comin' doon the Broomielaw?"

(The Broomielaw is a street in Glasgow.)

The howkers, or pickers, were mostly women, who would congregate early in the morning during the harvest at prearranged spots, waiting to be picked up in vans and trucks to be ferried out to the farms, returning each evening. Whether or not one was lucky enough to get a day's work depended largely on previous work record in the fields and how much space was left in the vehicles.

The pickers were often accompanied by young children, too young to be left at home and school holidays in some districts in Scotland were indeed adjusted to allow youngsters to supplement the labour force.

The hours were long and according to members of my mother's family who often went tattie-howkin' the work was back- breaking, dusty or muddy and poorly-paid, but provided a welcome addition to the family income. Health and safety considerations seemed often to be non-existent and hiring and firing was at the whim of the "gangers" (no such thing as minimum wages or contracts then) so pickers were easily exploited. The good old days, eh?

Stuart Batty, Brigstock, Northmaptonshire

BBC and private detectives

I was surprised at Stephen Glover's assertion that the BBC had not made a "comprehensive rebuttal" to the charge that it has employed the services of the private investigator Jonathan Rees ("Did The Guardian hack phones?" 15 August ). On the contrary, the BBC has looked in detail into the admittedly sparse evidence provided by Mr Rees that he worked for Panorama in the early 1990s and has found no evidence that he did so.

It is difficult 20 years later to establish beyond doubt that Mr Rees never at any stage worked on an edition of Panorama but it seems highly unlikely. I have tracked down and spoken personally to the production teams of programmes which most closely fit his claims and they assure me that these did not involve the use of a private investigator, let alone Mr Rees.

It's worth remembering that these matters only arose after a Panorama programme in March which alleged specific instances where Mr Rees was paid by newspaper journalists to get information from corrupt police officers and that he had been party to the illegal hacking of emails which ended up in the possession of the News of the World. These are serious and specific allegations.

The BBC does from time to time employ private investigators to help with complex or potentially dangerous stories and they are expected at all times to work within our editorial guidelines.

Tom Giles, Editor, Panorama, London W12

Lenin's verdict on looters

At a time when people are being jailed for stealing bottles of water during the riots, let us remember that Lenin commented on this very thing. Lenin was referring to British control of the railway system in South America when he stated: "In Britain, steal a loaf of bread and go to jail, but steal a railway and go to the House of Lords."

Given the tough sentences imposed on the rioters, have the judiciary been reading up on Bolshevik history?

Ian Stewart, Dundee

A 'model' of parenthood

Sad as is the death of Trevor Ellis, shot during the disturbances in Croydon, I am disturbed by his sister's description of him as a "model parent".

We are told he had four children of three years and under; there is reference to "the mother of one of his children". How can this be seen as a model of good parenthood? Is there a connection between acceptance of such standards of parenting and some of the recent anti-social behaviour?

Mark Miller, Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria

Killer's picture

I am appalled by your editorial decision to put a photo of the Norwegian killer on your front page (15 August). Isn't that exactly the sort of publicity the man wanted? And what sort of message does it give to young people? You say that Cameron blames lack of discipline for the recent riots, and Miliband blames the bankers. I think the media have a lot to answer for too.

Jean Wearne, Alderley Edge, Cheshire

That's all

So it looks like Cliché Corner has come to an end. Pity really. It was so – like – iconic.

Corris Thomas, Cardiff