Letters: Policing crowds

Heavy-handed policing frightens legitimate protesters
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What is surprising about the recent debates regarding the "crowd control" measures employed by the police are not the various revelations of police misconduct, brutality, or the apparent disproportionate use of force by the police against protesters (report, 18 April), but that these concerns have not been seriously aired and discussed before. It is a travesty that it took the death of a peaceful bystander for the media to focus its attention on police tactics regarding demonstrations.

Over the past 20 years I have witnessed the police baton-charging groups of peaceful demonstrators, in some cases containing terrified children and even pushchairs, and police officers hitting people without any apparent cause or reason. Similarly, as many regular demonstrators will know, the sight of some officers wearing balaclavas and having covered up their identity numbers is simply commonplace. When such people then find an excuse to beat up some demonstrators, it is nothing short of legalised thuggery.

Further, the tactic of kettling, which has been a popular crowd-control measure since the anti-capitalist protests of the late 1990s, is arguably a highly provocative as well as dangerous tactic. Anybody who has been "kettled" will know the boredom, frustration, thirst, hunger, and, eventually, anger at being deprived not only of one's freedom of movement and hence the right to protest peacefully, but also the helpless feeling of being criminalised despite having done nothing wrong. After enough hours of being trapped in this way it is not surprising that some people will try to forcibly break through police lines or start to pick arguments with the police.

What is depressing is not just that these things happen in a democracy but that these tactics are actively stopping people from making their perfectly legitimate voices of dissent heard by frightening them enough to stay away from demonstrations.

Dr Miriam Muller

University of Birmingham

The greenest cars are the oldest cars

The environmental implications of the Government's proposed grants for new electric vehicles, and conventionally powered cars when an older model is scrapped, are not proven, but it is clear that the initiatives have little to offer those for whom even a discounted brand-new car is too expensive an option ("Electric dream machines", 17 April).

The energy used to build a new vehicle is rarely taken into account when such schemes are labelled "environmentally friendly", which allows those of us who keep a car until it is unreliable to take heart from knowing it is not only a cheaper option than buying new; it is in many cases greener, too.

It is a fact that may not suit a Treasury that badly needs revenue from fuel duty or a motor industry desperately in need of profits, but whether electric, petrol or diesel-powered, the greenest car is the one that is kept the longest and driven the fewest miles.

Andrew Davis

Director, Environmental Transport Association

Weybridge, Surrey

While the Government's plan to invest heavily in a low-carbon transport network is to be applauded, we will be studying the final detail closely, as throwing money at people to buy an electric car will not work unless infrastructure is in place to support it.

Local authorities will need to build an expensive network of recharging points to ensure electric vehicles are a truly viable and convenient alternative to the motor car as we know it, and in the current financial climate councils will need as much support as possible from central Government and the private sector.

At Westminster we have pioneered schemes for electric drivers for the past decade and we now boast the greatest number of free on-street recharging points in the UK. Along with the Mayor of London we are committed to further increasing our recharging network but more local authorities and other organisations across the UK, from supermarkets to hospitals, also need to make this leap of faith as only once the network is in place can electric-car use really take off.

Cllr Danny Chalkley

Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport

Westminster City Council

The figures quoted by Keith Buchan of the Metropolitan Transport Research Unit in relation to the power demands of electric cars appear to be wildly overestimated (The Big Question, 10 April). He quotes a staggering 50kWh as the average energy demand per day, per car. I wonder whether such claims may arise from ignorance that, as opposed to the petrol engine, the electric engine is almost 100 per cent efficient.

Translated into the fuel requirements of a petrol engine, Mr Buchan's daily consumption would correspond to about 20 litres of petrol – much more than required for the average car in the average day. A typical electric car uses about 200Wh per mile, and can travel 250 miles on 50kWh, ie eight or nine times the average daily mileage.

Thomas Toniazzo


Why is giving £5,000 towards the cost of an expensive electric car even being considered as a good idea? The car companies will just raise their prices when they see they are going to get taxpayers' money, resulting in the buyer being forced to take out an even larger loan. Was it not being encouraged to buy on credit something that you could not afford that just got us into this current banking mess? Do we really want this to happen again?

P Cresswell

ENNISKILLEN, County Fermanagh

Israel's history of expansionism

Dr Jacob Amir denies Robert Fisk's assertion that the aim of Zionism was to dispossess the Arabs and take over Palestine (letter, 17 April). In 1895 Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, wrote: "We must expropriate gently the private property on the state assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border". In 1948 Israeli terrorists Irgun and Lehi slaughtered civilians in the village of Deir Yassin; this panicked the population into fleeing and the property of those thus ethnically cleansed was stolen by Israel.

David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, said: "We must do everything to ensure they never do return, the old will die and the young forget". In a letter to his son in 1937, Ben Gurion wrote that when a Jewish state is created "We will expel the Arabs and take their places".

In 1949 Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher, addressed Ben Gurion on the moral character of Israel saying "... in its creation and expansion we as Jews have caused what we historically have suffered; a refugee population in Diaspora".

William Garrett

Harrow, Middlesex

The BBC Trust has clearly shown its bias against an international and well-respected journalist in its criticisms of Jeremy Bowen (report, 16 April). His work and reporting over the years from many countries' war zones has been outstanding.

What is regrettable has been the silence of his colleagues at the BBC and other news media. In the BBC news programmes on radio and TV no mention was made throughout the day of the Trust report; it was not even mentioned on Newsnight. Why was this, when other issues – many far less newsworthy – are repeated each hour on the hour for 24 hours and often into the next day?

Thankfully the article by Robert Fisk (16 April) cleared the muck from the issue and the truth saw the light of day.

Len Aldis

London E3

Outdated view of homosexuality

Among the things that you list as "the rumours that tainted Brown's rivals" (18 April), you highlight "Is James Purnell gay?", and comment "no one knows where the smear originated".

So 52 years after Wolfenden and 42 after the Sexual Offences Act, to suggest that somebody might be gay is still a "smear"and will have "tainted" them.

I had thought that we had a society more grown-up than that. Apparently it hasn't sunk in with our political masters yet.

Chris Else

Maidenhead, Berkshire

Religion, the state and the monarchy

Oliver Wates, an atheist with 17th-century religious prejudices (letter, 15 April), warns us against a future Catholic monarch. I chuckled at his reference to a "self-perpetuating, right-wing clique" in the Vatican. That's exactly how I would describe our current Buckingham Palace regime.

One wonders if Mr Wates would write a similar letter denouncing hypothetical Jewish or Muslim monarchs.

My position is much simpler. Monarchy is a ludicrous, divisive, bigoted, anti-meritocratic anachronism, and any thinking person should demand its immediate abolition. Religion is a private matter and should have no connection whatsoever with the workings of the state.

Mike Hockney

Newcastle Upon Tyne

Dubai serves as a warning to us all

"The dark side of Dubai" (7 April) is a warning to us all. Dubai depends on a life-blood of money that is now declining fast. And with its planned growth of aviation, its CO2 emissions will contribute to climate change and sea-level rise around the world. Dubai could drown and the desert reclaim it – another mystery for future archaeologists? Another Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, Easter Island? As Shelley wrote in 1817: "Look on my works, ye mighty and despair. Nothing beside remain round the decay of that colossal wreck boundless and bare. The lone and level sands stretch far away". But surely this time they can see it coming?

Richard Brock


What sort of MPs do we want?

Many are concerned at the narrowness of our current political class and its tendency toward inbreeding. You report (18 April) on the selection process in the Labour "safe" seat of Erith and Thamesmead where Georgia Gould, a young woman who left school four years ago and whose employment experience seems to consist of a part-time job with her former party leader's nebulous "faith foundation", now wishes to become an MP.

I have no objection to her candidacy on the grounds of age but she seems to have done little other than be the daughter of a man elevated to the peerage by the man she now works for.

Do we want democracy or are we happy with nepotism? Do we want our MPs to be men and women of intellectual and social breadth or do we want a system of feudal appointment?

Mike Thomas

Newent, Gloucestershire

National Service

Has New Labour finally flipped? To legislate compulsory, voluntary (ie unpaid) service (ie slavery, which the Romans showed to be not cost effective) for teenagers, who in a couple of years' time will be voters, ranks as a death wish of outstanding efficacy.

JO Blenkinsop


Ideas for Radio 4

Mary Dejevsky (18 April) is quite right. We do need a major clearout of the Radio 4 weekend schedules. They've recently finally dumped Go4It, possibly the worst radio program ever, which often had me turning over to listen to Great Dentist Drills of the World in preference. Could we not now lose Gardener's Question Time, Poetry Please, The Archers Omnibus – can anybody face another Ambridge Christmas pantomime storyline? – and The Morning Service? All right, there was rioting in the streets when they got rid of Mrs Dale's Diary, but surely some sacrifices are worth making.

Pete Barrett

Colchester, Essex

Inner beauty

While agreeing with John F Irwin (letter, 18 April) about calling Susan Boyle "lovably ugly", and while trying never to make such comparisons, I felt far more attracted to the radiant inner beauty of Ms Boyle than to the so-called "beautiful people" watching her.

Mark Rasmussen


Optimum population

I wonder how many of the Optimum Population Trust folk, Sir David Attenborough included, would support personal control of the end as well as at the beginning of human life?

After all, we failing elderly each take up at least as much of the planet's resources as any infant, but to far less potential benefit.

Alison Sutherland

St Ola, Orkney

Barred nurse

I surely can't have understood this properly. A nurse has been struck off, not for failing to care for elderly, terminally ill patients, but for breaching their confidentiality by revealing how little care they received (report, 17 April). And this only after alerting managers to the appalling lack of care given on that ward. Has the Nursing and Midwifery Council gone completely mad?

Fleur Ball