Court battle against the clampers
I think Patrick Troy, the chief executive of the British Parking Association, is being disingenuous (letter, 25 January). The unacceptable behaviour of private clamping operators is well documented.
In December 2008 my son's car was clamped in Tunbridge Wells. He was charged £205 for its release. I paid this sum on his behalf and forthwith sued the clamping company online for making an unlawful demand. I obtained a county court judgment. Enforcement was the hard part. The clamping company operated out of an accommodation address. The company on its website boasted of its membership of the British Parking Association, so I tried to enlist their help in making recovery.
Three times I wrote to the association at the end of 2009 and at the beginning of 2010. Not once did they reply. Eventually through the county court I did obtain recovery of the judgment debt and costs, but no thanks to the association. I don't know whether its non-response was due to inefficiency or protecting one of its own. But Mr Troy's "campaigning for better regulation" of private clamping operators had better start with his own organisation.
David Ashton, Shipbourne, Kent
The Scots have got it right
Private wheel-clamping has been unlawful in Scotland for a number of years, and it has not been the disaster Patrick Troy fears. The Scottish legal system got it entirely correct, in the judgment in the case of Black v Carmichael, that the wheel-clamping of a vehicle until it is released on payment of a charge, which is not done under the authority of a statute, amounts to extortion, and is accordingly criminal.
What is a disaster is the current uncertainty about when the ban in England will come into force. Like greedy deckchair attendants on the Titanic, private wheel clampers are becoming ever more predatory. Pick up any local newspaper, and you'll find stories about people being clamped outside their own homes, outside churches, on the road after being snowed in, and so on.
The public do have recourse through the courts, but private wheel-clampers apparently seem to treat the whole court system with disdain. One well-reported Essex firm had over 25 unsatisfied county court judgments against them. The company ceased trading and the motorists are left chasing ghosts (and their money).
I have personal experience, when a private clamper forced an eight-month pregnant woman in floods of tears on a dark winter's night to walk half a mile to a machine so that he could get his ill-gotten gains. Not even Dick Turpin would have done that.
Ian Reynolds, Reading
Red card for football sexism
If the reporting is accurate, it seems that Andy Gray was rightly "warned" for unacceptable sexism but then almost immediately sacked when some previous misdemeanour came to light. To me that's a bit like a football referee issuing a yellow card and then converting it straight to red, on the basis of an unpenalised foul committed in an earlier match.
The bad news, from Andy Gray's point of view, is that I am a woman, and as such am almost certain to have a poor grasp of the logic of this situation.
Shirley Coulson, Milton Keynes
I do not condone or agree with the comments made by Andy Gray and Richard Keys, but are we not entering the realms of the thought police when experts are fired not for anything related to their work but for what words they use, off air, even if these are not seriously held?
The recording sounds to me like banter between the men, using the commonly held belief that it is usually a waste of time trying to tell a woman about the offside law, simply because she just doesn't care and doesn't want to know.
I tried to explain this to my wife this morning but she was just not interested. Does this mean I will now lose my job?
Graham Spring, Lowestoft, Suffolk
It's no surprise that a furore has erupted over the complexity of the offside law. It's football's equivalent of quantum theory.
Not only does the linesman have to consider whether a player in the opposition's half when the ball is played forward is in line with the second last defender, they also need to consider whether that player is interfering with play and is in the first or second phase. Of course this all changes if the ball comes from a throw-in, free kick or corner.
And don't get me started on Henning Berg's uncertainty principle, which holds that it is impossible to determine simultaneously the position of the player and the moment the ball is kicked to any degree of precision. As with Schrödinger's cat, a player can be both onside and offside at the same time depending on the state of the observer. No wonder even male linesmen have trouble with the pundits.
Charles Hopkins, Norwich
I've thought for a long time that reviewing contentious footballing incidents 10 or 11 times from the comfort of the TV studio in slow motion was a doddle. I would love to see Andy Gray and Richard Keys running the line (perhaps with the very able Sian Massey in the studio commenting on their "qualities").
Andy Weeks, Bristol
The most offensive aspect of the Andy Gray story is the fact that he was receiving £1.7m for his services to Sky Sports.
Jan Huntingdon, Cricklade, Wiltshire
The blame for bigotry
Baroness Warsi, in her speech last week about "Islamophobia" in Britain, does not admit the root causes of rising anti-Muslim bigotry.
While it is fashionable in Muslim circles to blame the British mainstream for increasing prejudice, few acknowledge that Muslims themselves are largely responsible for the growing bias against Islam. While a discredited Anglo-American foreign policy and oil-driven wars in Islamic lands are not to be dismissed, it is religious fundamentalism within British Islam that is at the heart of Muslim alienation and the reactive growth of anti-Muslim hostility.
It is indisputable that Muslims are complicit in political violence in both the east and the west. This fanaticism is underpinned by a toxic theology which is propagated in the UK by the repressive Wahhabi-Salafi-Deobandi sects.
They peddle invented doctrines that have no Qur'anic authority, like the promotion of a medieval shari'ah, violent jihad, honour killings and female genital mutilation. A virulent hierarchy assiduously promotes false myths relating to women's oppression, female face masking, men's beards, social separatism, apostasy, blasphemy, heresy, stoning to death, interfaith intolerance and religious supremacism. These mullah "rulings" are all manufactured dogmas that have no substance in the transcendent Qur'an. It is this fabricated Islam that the British public, together with forward-looking Muslims, finds most repugnant.
It is incumbent upon mainstream society to combat anti-Muslim hatred. But it is equally imperative for British Muslims to jettison an unthinking allegiance to Saudi and Indo-Pak sectarianism that is neither faithful to pristine Islam nor beneficial to social harmony.
Previously, Warsi bravely disparaged the bearded clerics who foster Muslim exceptionalism and extremism. This time, however, she pusillanimously blames non-Muslims for the negative imagery of Muslims. Until Islam is saved from clerical zealotry and becomes rooted in, and relevant to, 21st-century British society, it will remain an opportune target for anti-Muslim bigots.
Dr T Hargey, Imam, Oxford Islamic Congregation
The rabid dialogue surrounding issues of belief points to a less and less tolerant world, one fuelled by the blogosphere into believing it is OK to treat criticism or counter-proposals with instant hatred and bile. In religion or in politics, it seems, you are either with us or against us, on-message or off.
It is a mindset born out of ignorance but inhabiting a technologically advanced world that affords greater than ever scope to the pedlars of all shades of opinion. What is fast disappearing is accountability - the obligation to substantiate and authenticate.
Baroness Warsi voiced – albeit rather obtusely – a fear that we must address. Loose talk and opinion must be challenged. People should not be allowed to get away with things so easily.
Nigel Cubbage, Merstham, Surrey
Forests for sale
The government today [27 January] publishes a consultation on the possible sale of large swathes of publicly owned forest land across England. As leaders of charities concerned with wildlife conservation, habitat, animal welfare and public access to the countryside, we are concerned that sales may not take adequate account of the public interest in that land, if and when it is sold.
A recent public consultation showed that the overwhelming majority of the public saw the forests as providing important wildlife habitat, conservation benefit and public enjoyment through access to substantial areas of woodland. In our view, any sales and sale conditions must make substantial provision for protection of wildlife and the preservation of wildlife habitats, as well as safe and secure public access at all times.
Without such safeguards, there is a grave risk that there will be substantial reductions in the numbers of already endangered wild animals and their habitats; and without rights of access, the public will not be able to blow the whistle if things go wrong.
We recognise that putting such caveats on land sold may reduce the financial value, but given the wider national interest in protecting precious countryside, we feel that such conditions are a price worth paying on any transfer of ownership to the private and non-charitable sector.
Douglas Batchelor, League Against Cruel Sports
David Bowles, RSPCA
Simon Cowell, Wildlife Aid
Mark Jones, Care for the Wild
Justin Kerswell, Viva
Pauline Kidner, Secret World Wildlife Rescue
Robbie Marsland, IFAW UK
Suzi Morris, World Society for the Protection of Animals
Fiona Ogg, OneKind
Marina Pacheco, Mammal Society
David Williams, Badger Trust, Godalming Surrey
There is now great concern in both the UK and Ireland regarding the proposed sell-off of forestry resources. Here in Ireland, our lame-duck government is wanting to sell the national forestry board, Coillte Teoranta, a semi-state company owning hundreds of thousands of hectares of the Irish countryside. Interest has been expressed by Swiss finance company Helvetia Wealth as well as the China Investment Corporation.
David Cameron proposes sale of UK forests and suggests that communities could buy them, and it would all be wonderful for his "Big Society". Sadly, the most likely beneficiary would again be the big Chinese society. Chinese investors are gobbling up resources all around the globe and are happy to rip up forests and displace communities so that they can access minerals or construct industrial sites.
What our governments fail to recognise in their panic for short-term economic gain is the huge potential of sustainably managed forestry as not only a valuable timber resource, but as a tourism attraction, public amenity, richly biodiverse ecosystem and carbon sink. This is a long-term benefit to the economy worth many times the amount that such a resource might be bought for. To sell national forests to the highest bidder is an outrage against people and environment.
Bob Wilson, CELT Centre for Environmental Living and Training Scariff, Co Clare, Ireland
It is reported that the Coalition Government hopes to raise £100m over the next five years by selling off Forestry Commission land in England. This is the same amount that is spent every month subsidising windfarming. The choice is obvious. Keep our forests safe and cut the windfarms.
William Oxenham, Edinburgh
Means and ends for the NHS
Steve Richards obfuscates the debate on NHS reform by his statement that "this policy marks the end of the NHS" (18 January).
He seems to confuse the goals of the NHS with the means of achieving them. The traditional goals of the NHS are the provision of care that provides universal coverage, is free to patients and of consistently high quality. And we should add the practical constraint of being affordable (which in practice means that productivity needs to improve over time). None of these goals is undermined by Cameron's proposed reforms unless there is a secret conspiracy to bring the "evils of US healthcare" to England.
The right debate should be about whether the structures in the new NHS have any prospect of achieving those goals more effectively than the central control of the traditional NHS. And we shouldn't accept the default assumptions of the opponents of reform: central planning has rarely, if ever, achieved consistent high quality, or improvements to productivity, and has frequently failed to provide the equivalent of universality. For example, East Germans didn't have more cars than West Germans, and the cars they had were Trabants not BMWs.
There is plenty of room for a debate about whether GP control of a budget dispensed to providers competing for patients will work. But it isn't the end of the NHS.
Dr Stephen Black, Health management expert, PA Consulting Group, London SW1
Dorothy Spence (letter, 24 January) thinks we should be called "clients" or "service users", not patients. God forbid! No doubt we will become "customers" next. When I am on a train, I am a passenger and when I consult a doctor I am a patient.
Nigel Scott, London N22
Yet another broken promise
I couldn't agree more with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's article (24 January) on the "untouchability" at the heart of government and all major institutions.
It has come to a head with a government which seems intent on breaking almost every pre-election pledge. We all know about student fees; now, horrifically, we know too, that the NHS was nowhere near "safe". Almost daily we learn of yet another broken promise: our forests being sold off by a prime minister who would have us believe he's a green activist, for example. And surely every incoming government could sell us an excuse about things being worse than they expected.
What price democracy, when our votes turn out to be so meaningless? Only mass civil disobedience could possibly dislodge those who have so deceived us. It has to be worth a try.
M Cross, Reading
Proper care at weekends
Mary Dejevsky ("Everyone is working 24/7 – except those who should be", 21 January) makes a valid point in stating that care for patients either admitted to or discharged from hospital should be at the same level "out of hours" as it is during the "working week".
However, further rambling over overtime payments and mention of strikes and "austere times" confuses her arguments. All those employed in whatever profession should be free to maximise their earnings.
Perhaps a fairer system of payment would be to raise basic wages by 30-40 per cent but scrap overtime payments and count any day of the week as a working day, especially in the emergency and care sectors. People would then be properly rewarded for their hard work at all hours and would almost certainly save money in the end.
John Moore, Northampton
When will we act to save the bees?
Chris Hartfield of the NFU dismisses precautionary bans on neonicotinoid pesticides, despite concerns over their effect on bees (letter, 26 January). He says the NFU works on the basis of what is known for sure, rather than what might be suspected. Keep using it unless and until it's proven harmful? I imagine there are no thalidomide victims in the NFU team.
In another letter, Phil Newton of the European Crop Protection Association says that until research is completed "caution in pronouncements is a must". Caution in pronouncements, mind – not caution in actual use?
Ray Chandler, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
What Chirac said
Tony Blair told the Chilcot inquiry that France would never have accepted a UN ultimatum to Saddam. President Chirac actually said in his TV interview of 16 March 2003 that if Saddam did not co-operate with Hans Blix's UN arms inspectors, "it will be for the Security Council to decide the right thing to do. But in that case, of course, regrettably, the war would become inevitable. It isn't today."
Nicholas Wood, London NW3