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- Arts + Ents
Tuesday 13 November 2007
Letters: Police complaints
Menezes case shows need for a new prosecuting authority
Sir: When it comes to holding somebody to account it isn't just the weakness of the Independent Police Complaints Commission that is the problem ("Sir Ian defiant as watchdog attacks Menezes 'errors' ", 9 November). The stance of the Crown Prosecution Service is also a regular cause for concern in cases of death within the purview of the police and prison services.
There are two reasons for the besuited and bewigged end of law enforcement to go easy on the uniformed end. One is the gambler's judgement on the prospects of prosecution the CPS is required to make. The other is the need for the CPS to work closely with the police day in, day out. Both constrain its willingness to prosecute police officers.
Surely it is time for something like a standing commission on deaths in custody, such as proposed by the charity Inquest, with powers of prosecution untrammelled by the need to keep in with the police.
Mary Pimm, Nik Wood
Sir: Jean Charles de Menezes died in the fog of war. The battle in which he died was in the fevered atmosphere following 7/7 and the failed bombings of 21/7, the day before he was shot. Yes, mistakes were made, but critics of Sir Ian Blair and his officers should get real: surely the real killers of Mr Menezes were the terrorists of the preceding weeks.
Sir: Much has been made in recent days of the managerial failings of the the Metropolitan Police under Sir Ian Blair. Little seems to have been said about the cover-up which occurred immediately following the unfortunate killing of Mr Menezes.
Once it was known that Mr Menezes had indeed been shot by mistake, a number of untruths were put about in the media by senior officers, including Sir Ian Blair. Whether the latter knew these statements to be untrue at the time or not is immaterial. He repeated untruths which we all remember.
We were told that Mr Menezes vaulted the barrier and rushed down the escalator, that he was wearing bulky clothing seemingly hiding a bomb, that he was an illegal immigrant and behaving suspiciously to avoid arrest. All these statements were put forward in mitigation for this horrendous mistake. But none of these statements was true.
It is for this reason that Sir Ian Blair should certainly step down.
Rising population heads for disaster
Sir: Dominic Lawson's article (6 November) and the letters in response illustrate the polarisation of views on population growth. If you look at any graph of resource usage and population numbers over time you can see the problem. The graphs are exponential.
Just a 1 per cent increase in annual population results in a doubling of the total population every 70 years. Malthus identified the problem in the 18th Century, but scientific progress has averted the predicted mass starvation ever since. Now, we also tend to live longer. Resources are limited and therefore there has to be a limit. The potential for disaster is increasing. You can compare Lawson's thoughts with the story of the frog placed into a pan of cold water which is then slowly heated. It could jump out but adjusts to the rising temperature, until it is too late.
Economic development on the scale required for the population growth problem to "solve itself" as Lawson puts it could strain the planet way beyond any reasonable capacity. The population will be limited either by society or nature. Nature may deal with the matter more unpleasantly.
Currently resources are becoming limited, tensions are rising, military expenditure is rising, and at the same time globalisation and climate change are taking place with ever faster activity. Let's just hope that scientific progress can keep up and we can co-operate rather than compete. The amounts spent on the military would be better spent on science, especially in using the sun's power more efficiently. There's a use for those large empty sunny deserts.
Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire
Sir: Both Roger Martin (letters, 8 November) and Dominic Lawson (6 November) believe that the country is largely empty and free for populating. Like Roger Martin, I have also walked for some hours across the country, but in contrast to his experiences I failed to observe much empty land. Far from it, almost all of it was being used to produce the vast quantities of food that are needed to fill up our supermarkets. I found that this experience contrasted to the less densely populated countries that I have also walked across for some hours, as these still had plenty of land left over for forests and grassland.
Britain barely has enough land to produce food for the 60 million people that currently populate it (we import more than 40 per cent of it from overseas and this figure is rising fast). The issue of space to move around in and plonk houses on is not the point. The increasing population and wealth of the developing world, coupled with a fast-approaching peak in global oil production, will soon cause the cost of importing food to rise dramatically. We urgently need most of our land to remain "empty" and our population to stop growing.
Sir: I thoroughly agree with Dominic Lawson's article on population. It reminds me of the words of the late, great American economist Julian Simon, who proclaimed that people are the world's "ultimate resource". Yes, people create problems, but it is also people with their brains, their imaginations, and their will to succeed who will find the solutions we need.
So many of the population control freaks are blinded by their pessimism. The progress we have made in almost every field even in the last decade should give them pause for thought, should encourage them to look to the future with optimism. It is those nations who nurture and appreciate the resource that their population offers who will succeed in the world of the future and those whose population is confined by the blinkered attitudes of their governments who will fail.
Thank goodness for those like Dominic Lawson who can see through the miasma of pessimism generated by the doomsayers.
Janet Secluna Thomas
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan
Sir: Dominic Lawson cites the island of Jersey as an example of a happy society in a densely populated place. He is only telling half the story. Yes, there is enough room on Jersey for the population but there are not enough resources to support their standard of living. If you close the ports on Jersey you will soon find out what standard of living is possible for the population if it had to rely on the island alone.
Likewise, Britain has to import goods to support its present population. On one estimate, we use the resources of an island three times our size. Hence the figure of 20 million people as the most desirable long-term population.
The real problem comes with the earth as a whole. Currently, we are, by some estimates, exceeding the resources of the earth already by 20 per cent and there is no way to import more resources from elsewhere. We therefore need to either reduce our comsumption per head or reduce the number of people. The trends currently are in the opposite direction of more people consuming more resources per person.
There is a debate to be had about how we can deal with this situation (new technology against population reductions for instance) but there is no point in denying its potential serousness.
Langford Budville, Somerset.
Hen harriers shot at Sandringham
Sir: Henry Bellingham (letter, 10 November) would do well to re-read the Norfolk Crown Prosecution Service statement of 6 November, which states that "there is insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone over the shooting of two hen harrier birds, a protected species, at Sandringham on 24 October 2007". The CPS does not question that the birds were shot, or challenge the credibility of the Natural England witness.
Natural England made no allegations about possible culprits but left the police to investigate. We do indeed enjoy a good relationship with conservation partners and wish to maintain it, particularly when trying to ensure a long-term future for the hen harrier, one of England's most endangered birds.
Sir Martin Doughty
Chair, Natural England, Sheffield
After the Lib Dem leadership vote
Sir: Thrilled though I am to be mentioned in the same sentence as Simon Hughes and Jeremy Browne regarding a hypothetical promotion should Nick Clegg win the Liberal Democrat leadership race, I think a little mischief making may be involved in this speculation (Pandora 9 November).
Nick, I know, is fully focused on the task in hand (winning the contest) and is certainly not taking anything for granted about the outcome. As just one of his many supporters in Parliament, neither am I. The time for consideration of new Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet posts is after the leadership result becomes known and not before.
Mark Hunter MP
(Cheadle, Lib Dem) Bramhall, Greater Manchester
Immoral plan to ban soup runs
Sir: London councils are proposing to ban a lifeline for the capital's homeless. Under the new London Local Authorities Bill, volunteer-run soup kitchens would be prohibited from distributing soup, sandwiches and clothing in public places.
This link between the housed and homeless communities is absolutely vital. Not only does it provide warmth, sustenance and support to those in need, it also plays a huge role in ensuring they don't have to turn to crime to survive.
Croydon's Nightwatch charity, of which I am a volunteer, began in 1976 because people were literally dying of hunger on our streets. In 2007 our operation is bigger than ever, and removing us from the streets would be wholly and utterly immoral.
South Croydon, Surrey
Sir: London councils are proposing to ban people from giving out free food. Working for a homeless charity in London, we are concerned about the effect this might have on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The thing I find most difficult to understand is the concern raised by some that people are "choosing a life of dependency" on the streets of London. I find it difficult to imagine that people would choose to sleep out in sub-zero conditions, not knowing for certain where the next meal is coming from. Perhaps it would be better for us to address the inexcusable levels of poverty and inequality in our rich country before resorting to such desperate measures.
Borderline London SW1
How timber can store carbon
Sir: Ru Hartwell is wrong to say that forests are carbon neutral unless they are growing or spreading (letters, 8 November). If sustainably managed, they regularly add to the stock of fixed carbon in the form of harvested wood, which is kept out of the atmosphere as long as it remains in use, whether as construction timber, furniture, board, paper or rayon.
The beams of medieval churches have been storing forest carbon for many centuries. There is enormous scope for increasing the use of forest products to replace materials whose fossil-fuel cost is far higher. Even if a forest seems static, it would very often be possible to build up its carbon content progressively by increasing the standing volume of timber, by favouring species with denser wood and by fostering the development of a deeper soil.
On the other hand, deforestation can destroy carbon neutrality in next to no time – and is doing so under the present insane biofuels programme.
P J Stewart
The Caesar diet
Sir: Adam Knowles (Letters, 10 November) is right that Julius Caesar asked for "men about me that are fat" but the next line reads: "Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o'nights." According to the latest medical research, sound sleepers tend to stay thin (I suspect because they are less likely to be too tired to exercise).
Lewes, East Sussex
Risible ID cards
Sir: For Stuart Russell to describe ID cards as having a "large measure of public support" and being able to "ensure the security" of the UK is risible. There is no evidence that a national ID card scheme would do anything to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks; the 7/7 bombers were UK residents (and so would have valid ID cards), and having ID cards in Madrid did nothing to prevent attacks there. ID cards represent a fundamental shift in the relationship between state and citizen in favour of the state.
Latin in English
Sir: Mark Hall's quotation (letter, 12 November) from the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation refers to the "various microbiology and infection control experts the BBC has consulted" in arriving at its recommended (mis)pronunciation of Clostridium difficile. When I am seeking guidance on microbiological matters I am happy to consult a microbiologist. Would it not be logical for the BBC Pronunciation Unit to seek expert advice on pronunciation of Latin on the same principle, and consult a Latinist ? Or is it to be a case of quot homines, tot sententiae ?
Sir: Gordon Brown has said: "It's looking like a great sporting decade for our country." We have the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales, followed by the London Olympics in 2012, then the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. The Rugby Football Union intends to bid for the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the Football Association will bid to host the 2018 World Cup, then the Cricket World Cup will take place in England in 2019. Prime Minister, be a sport and tell us: who is going to pay for all this?
Gay without guilt
Sir: Christina Patterson (8 November) is correct; God does heal. He has healed a lot of homosexuals of their guilt about their sexual orientation, and enabled them to live happier lives exactly as they are.
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