Letters: Police response times

The police responded, but the crime had moved on
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The Independent Online

I read your report (15 October) about the murder of Hannah Foster and the failure of police control to respond to her 999 call. The same day on a train from Dartford in Kent to London Bridge station a dispute erupted. A young man was threatening two pensioners over something they had said. A man intervened and he was then also berated. The young man then started threatening to hit women and children in the crowded carriage. Those that could moved away. A friend travelling with him repeatedly physically held him back as he lunged at people shouting and swearing vengeance.

This went on through several station stops, with the young man becoming increasingly angry. I called the police and explained to the operator what was happening. I tried to do this discreetly so I would not be seen by the man, who was walking up and down the aisle, and explained I could not talk for long. I asked for Transport Police to meet the train at London Bridge.

The operator insisted on going through a fixed set of questions, such as wanting a description of the assailant and asking where I was. Deptford station, I said, but I again emphasised the need for police at London Bridge station to be waiting as the crime was on a train. The operator said they would notify the police. I went to the man and asked him to calm down and listen to his friend, who was trying to calm him, but he was still angry.

Coming into London Bridge, my phone rang; it was the police asking whether the train was still at Deptford station, three miles back down the line. Nothing could be done, and the young man, who may have had serious mental health problems, went.

It would seem that operators are working still in an age of landlines, and with inappropriate fixed procedures. When many of us can make hasty calls on mobiles to report crime we need a more flexible and understanding service from operators, so that crime is tackled more effectively without putting those reporting it in danger.

Mark Nottingham

Ramsgate, Kent

Councillor Abdal Ullah states that from the hundreds of bikes seized from Brick Lane market over the past few years, not one has been reported to the police as stolen (letter, 17 October). Given the uninterested attitude of the police towards petty crime described in Tim Walker's article elsewhere in The Independent that day, is anyone surprised?

Allan Friswell

Cowling, North Yorkshire

Out of the ruins, a greener economy

I suspect that Bill Robinson is correct in saying that most people are unaware that we are teetering on the edge of economic and social collapse (letter, 17 October). He identifies the need to create a new society with far greater in-built resilience. I totally agree. Unlikely as it may seem at the moment, I believe this current mess offers us a massive opportunity.

Commentators such as The Independent's Jeremy Warner are suggesting that the Government will now have to invest heavily in public works in order to get the economy moving again. If this is the case, let us not waste the chance as did Japan a few years ago by building superfluous motorways and the like.

Instead, let us build high-quality eco-housing. Let us create a low-carbon agricultural system where we grow as much as we reasonably can within our own shores. Let us invest heavily in renewable energy in order to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, which will become scarcer and more expensive. Let us create a high-quality, low-cost public transport system. Let us build local infrastructure that is less reliant upon car use.

This is our big chance to tackle our national economic fragility and global environmental breakdown at the same. We may not get another.

Keith O'Neill


The economic downturn has hardly come as a surprise to pensioners with half an ounce of gumption and a lifetime of work and business experience to call on. It was obvious that the fool's gold decade of unlimited credit availability that encouraged thoughtless spending and allowed people to obtain goods and services they couldn't afford could not possibly continue unabated.

With the acquiescence of successive governments, our once sound and solid financial institutions have been taken over by jack-the-lad, bonus-driven, greed-is-good "entrepreneurs" with no integrity or shame, barrow-boys, city spivs and commission-only used-car salesmen with little banking business know-how and no affection for either the companies they run or the staff who work for them.

The Civil Service is just as bad, corrupted by a something-for-nothing bonus culture that fuels expediency. The country's colleges dish out dodgy diplomas and our universities Mickey Mouse degrees. Under the Government's private finance initiative, opportunist construction companies build schools and hospitals that for the next 30 years will hang massive financial millstones around the necks of future generations.

For nearly 12 years, Gordon Brown has preached prudence but practised profligacy. And now British taxpayers and pensioners are going to have to pick up the pieces and pay a very heavy price for doing so.

Colin Hadley

Chairman, Devon Pensioners' Action Forum, Exeter

Your leading article relating to the investment activities of local authorities, and various letters (10 October) raised pertinent questions and, as a council treasurer, I thought it might be helpful to offer an explanation.

We set a budget, usually looking ahead between three and five years, that estimates how much we need to spend and where we'll get our money from. Actual cash spending can fluctuate throughout the year, due, for example, to seasonal spending patterns, so the amount of cash we have at any point in time doesn't directly influence what we can afford to spend.

Some councils will, quite rightly, have surplus cash as a result of several factors. We have to retain contingency funds, which can be as much as 5 per cent of our budgets; we build up reserves ahead of time to pay for particular items such as pay and grading reviews, repairs and insurance claims; we face seasonal dips in income, particularly council tax, which slows considerably in the last two months of a year; we may have slippage, delays or underspends on our capital budget which delay the rate at which cash is spent; and we may borrow cash ahead of actual need in order to minimise debt costs.

The last factor has been particularly relevant at a time when councils have been able to borrow at traditionally low rates and earn a premium by investing the money, although the extent to which we can (and should) do this is governed by national rules. I hope this explains why it is possible for a council to have surplus cash and yet still face spending constraints.

By the way, my own council didn't have, and never has had, any funds invested with the Icelandic banks.

Mike Owen

Town Hall, Bury, Lancashire

Champagne runs dry at the BBC

According to Pandora (15 October), John Simpson described the current model of the BBC as "being in the last stages", and said: "We are already cutting back on all our operations across the board as a result of the effective cut in the licence fee." Oh dear !

Please show him your article on page 3 of the same edition, "Beeb bans champers", and then ask him if he still thinks a very large cut in the next licence fee would not be universally welcomed. The Director General has suddenly been overcome with pangs of conscience that he has been presiding over the BBC's culture of excess for so long that his staff might now be expected actually to pay for their own Christmas parties. The sooner the BBC reaches the "last stages", the better.

Clive Owen

Middleton St George, DARLINGTON

You quote the BBC's spending on champagne as £57,000 a year, their spending on bottled water as £360,000. Stick to the bubbly, Beeb, and ditch the utterly extravagant waste which is bottled water. Try tap water instead!

Glynne Williams

London E17

Funny or just plain offensive?

David Lister is worried by our "comedy police" (11 October) whom he accuses of banning jokes about Muslims, and insists that "comedy can be offensive". (Or does he mean must be?)

Couldn't we instead have some comedy that is actually amusing or witty or something? He's not too bothered about TV preventing Harry Enfield from trying to "mate his pet Geordie, played by Paul Whitehouse, with a Filippina maid". One can understand why a Filippina had been chosen; the poverty of the Philippines has forced thousands of women to work in the Middle East, Europe and North America. Where else would a man look who wants to "mate" a woman with even a pretend animal for the public's entertainment? But is it comedy? If the Philippines government is protesting about that sketch, more power to them.

I watched The Secret Policeman's Ball on TV last week. Most of the "humour" seemed to consist of men saying "fuck" or "fucking" every few sentences, very emphatically, like small boys shouting, "Look! No hands!" when they've just learned to ride their bicycles. You'd have needed quite a lot of alcohol, I would think, to have found most of them amusing.

A couple of the few sketches that were noticeably witty were delivered by women – without such bad language. One of them was, if I remember correctly, Iranian. Probably a Muslim. . .

M M Heath


Destroyer that saved lives

In your obituary for Ted Briggs (9 October) you mentioned all three HMS Hood survivors being picked up by the E-class destroyer HMS Electra.

Remarkably Electra made two other historic rescues in her short life (1934-42). On the very day the Second World War broke out (3 September 1939), she led the rescue of 980 survivors from the passenger ship SS Athenia, torpedoed by U30, some 250 miles off Northern Ireland, an incident reprising the fate of the Lusitania in the First World War. Electra and her sister ship, HMS Escort, together saved 480 souls.

In December 1941, as part of Force Z, she was escorting the battle cruiser Repulse and the battleship Prince of Wales off Malaysia. On 10 December, when both heavy ships were sunk by Japanese aircraft, she picked up 600 survivors from the Repulse.

Electra herself was sunk on 27 February 1942 in the Battle of the Java Sea. Only 54 of her crew of 173 survived, picked up by the American submarine S38. She saved the lives of many. Her own she could not save.

John Evans

Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Hero of peace

A little-known but curious fact about Senator McCain's hero, the bloodthirsty and war-obsessed Theodore Roosevelt (Johann Hari, 16 October), is that he won the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1906). This prize has a chequered history.

Aroup Chatterjee

London E8

War on civil liberty

Having failed dismally to regulate the greed of the few, this government continues its campaign to police the private activities of the innocent many. Geoff Hoon attempts to justify this ("Hoon defends plan for Big Brother database", 17 October) by saying that anyone who opposes the Government's scheme to monitor all our phone calls and internet is "giving a licence to terrorists to kill". This is a classic version of the Orwellian doublethink learned at the feet of Bush and Blair: "If you are against us, you must be for our enemies."

Jeremy Walker

London WC1

Bad theology

Mike Wright (letter, 14 October) raises an important point when he suggests that creationism is dubious theologically. Although science and religious faith are often portrayed as poles apart, the truth is that bad science can never be good theology. In the case of creationism, the refusal to accept the evidence of science goes hand in hand with a refusal to recognise the fallible human authorship of the various books of the Bible. Both sorts of denial are bad theologically.

Colin V Smith

Rainford, Merseyside

Polite children

As an ex-teacher of many years' experience I agree entirely with Caroline Clarke (letter, 17 October) that children cannot "be expected to behave like adults". It is their parents that we expect to behave like adults; by taking steps to see that their children do not disturb others and by teaching them appropriate behaviour and manners when eating out. I believe it is the success, particularly in the latter, of many parents abroad that makes families welcome and accepted in so many restaurants on the Continent.

R J Hoskin

Banbury, Oxfordshire

Sock mysteries

When are the idiots responsible for fashion going to launch the concept of un-coordinated socks?

Yves Lombardot

Godalming, Surrey