Letters: Racist tweets don't deserve jail


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I find Liam Stacey's prison sentence for inciting racial hatred deeply uncomfortable. Stacey has made a thoughtless and deeply offensive comment in the heat of the moment. But since when has that become punishable by a custodial sentence?

There is a clear divide between Stacey's tweets and a premeditated racist diatribe aimed at genuinely inciting violence against a particular ethnic group. It's the symptom of an increasingly hypersensitive society that we can no longer tell the difference between the two.

Had Stacey made the comments down at the pub, I imagine someone would have told him to shut up and that would have been the end of it. As it was, he was alone and posted his immediate thoughts on Twitter – a medium frequently underestimated by bigoted students and public figures alike.

Robert MacAndrew

London SW4

It is apparent that Liam Stacey, like many others before him, turns into a complete idiot when he has had too much to drink. What he tweeted about Fabrice Muamba might have been vile and abhorrent but Mr Stacey will likely now find himself thrown out of university and his rugby club and in my view this is punishment enough.

Putting him in jail for a month (assuming he will get remission for good behaviour) will serve no useful purpose and might put him in danger of physical attack. Three months of community service would have been a far more appropriate sentence.

Malcolm Howard

Banstead, Surrey

The nation that thinks getting drunk is funny

The debate on binge drinking fails to explore our attitude as a nation to abuse of alcohol in one particular: that we see something hilarious about the state of intoxication. In, for instance, Mediterranean countries, drinking in order to get drunk, and its effects, is simply not considered as amusing in the slightest.

Attitudes toward drunkenness in Britain are reflected all around us – in card shops where at least half the merchandise encourages excess drinking as an essential way to celebrate an occasion; the glamourising of alcohol in advertising, with the emphasis on targeting the young; references frequently heard at social events, ranging from arch to laddish, to the effect that a good time will be had only by quaffing industrial quantities of alcohol.

Fourteen years of living in Italy taught me that getting drunk as a teenager does not have to be a rite of passage, nor is getting drunk at any age either desirable or even funny. And yet somehow Italians from nine to 90 seem to have a lot of fun.

Gerry Cortese

Lewes, East Sussex

Emilie Lamplough (letter, 26 March) states that smoking used to be fashionable but attitudes changed. She now wants a change in attitude to alcohol consumption.

Why? Moderate smoking kills the consumer and endangers non-smokers in the vicinity. Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to be beneficial and is not harmful to those nearby. Alcohol consumption is in decline but a small number of binge drinkers are used as the excuse to punish the sensible drinker.

Now is the time for those who enjoy alcohol to fight back, because the logical conclusion to this witch-hunt is prohibition.

Stephen Hannigan


Planning for a big profit

With changes in planning law now coming through and huge tracts of land suddenly jumping upwards in value, one calculation urgently needs to be done: which land-speculation companies own those areas of land and stand to gain most from the changes in law, and which of those companies has had which lobby-contact with the Government?

Since "Dinnergate", we should now start to assume that all decisions made by this government have a lobby-driven commercial motivation, until proven otherwise.

Alan Mitcham

Cologne, Germany

The large rise in postage stamp prices may be the answer to concerns about the new planning laws. When post offices up and down the country go out of business due to the prohibitive cost of postage then all these properties will be available for redevelopment as shops and houses and our green belts will be safe.

It's an ill wind...

Clive Whichelow

London SW19

'Monster' teachers under attack

The current hand-wringing over unfair exclusions represents yet another attack on the already shattered autonomy of schools. The current deplorable state of affairs has been brought about by the obsession with making learning "fun" while dismantling discipline. Meanwhile teachers must "include" chronically disruptive pupils even though they pose a serious threat to others' learning.

It seems to me that educationists and politicians see themselves battling with Dickensian teacher-monsters in defence of imaginary ranks of pale, terrified waifs. But our schools are not Dotheboys Halls. Or if they are, then the modern Smike is a young teacher, crippled by the crazy conflicting demands that are hourly heaped upon him. Mr Squeers is the disruptive pupil, idle but demanding "respect" and lording it over the classroom while Mrs Squeers, or Ofsted, lends a hand by dosing the teaching staff regularly with brimstone and treacle.

My experience as a teacher tells me that zero tolerance is the only way to manage modern schools. Any teacher will tell you that you allow petty transgression to build up at your peril. If you have a rule you had better stick to it, whether it is school uniform, litter or a veto on secret filming in lessons. Special pleading on behalf of "victimised" pupils is a predictable but dangerous response when the sanctions available to schools are minimal and constantly under attack.

While the rights of misbehaving pupils and their parents are constantly invoked and their responsibilities remain vague, many schools remain in a state of siege. Is it any wonder that they employ desperate measures so that some teaching can go on?

Martin Murray

London SW2

Captain Scott's last message

The twenty-ninth of March 1912 is widely regarded as the date of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's death, as the last entry in his diary is so dated. A closer examination of this diary (available in facsimile on the British Library website) indicates that it is very unlikely that Scott lived this long, and must, in his death throes, have got his dates mixed up.

He, Bowers and Wilson, returning from the South Pole, made their last camp on the evening of 19 March. They would already have been exhausted, emaciated and frostbitten at this point. They had food for two days, but fuel (needed to melt snow for drinking water), for only one.

In his Message to the Public, written four days after making camp, Scott notes: "We are weak, writing is difficult"; by this time they would have been out of both food and fuel, in temperatures below -40C, for at least two days. It seems extremely unlikely that Scott could have lived another five days and written a completely legible whole page at the end of it (the writing for the entry dated the 29th is actually better than for the entry dated 22nd/23rd). I hope descendants and admirers of Scott, Wilson and Bowers will be comforted by the thought that the explorers' ordeal must have been over sooner than had previously been assumed.

David Lahee


The antidote to pickled sharks

I am delighted to report to Julian Spalding (Opinion, 27 March) that serious art is very much alive in the oeuvre of David Hockney. I went to his Royal Academy exhibition and was amazed at the wonderful draftsmanship, the eye for colour and the sheer joie de vivre of the show. The charcoal sketches also are stunning in their virtuosity and bear comparison with the great artists of the past.

We owe a debt of gratitude to David Hockney for ploughing his lone and highly principled furrow. His art will last. The PR-inspired pickled-sharkdom of Hirst and co will disappear "like piffle in the wind", to quote Daisy Ashford's The Young Visiters.

Glynne Williams

London E17

It was very refreshing to read Julian Spalding's opinions on "con art". A few years ago I stood in front of a wall of Marilyns in Cleveland, Ohio, and had my suspicions confirmed - that Andy Warhol was a brilliant conman devoid of any imagination except that of hype.

He took someone else's photo of Marilyn Monroe, gave it to someone else to reproduce, had someone else tint it in different shades, got someone else to silk-screen it, and presented it to a gullible world as art. There is a direct line to pickled sharks, unmade beds and spatter paintings knocked off by an assistant in a few minutes.

Charles Saatchi has a lot to answer for.

John Collis

Taunton, Somerset

Wrong limit on petrol sales

Many petrol retailers are preparing to display maximum quantity notices to be displayed should the tanker drivers' strike happen. As in the past, this will worsen the shortage.

As soon as those notices are seen, motorists will endeavour to keep the tank as full as possible, because they may not be able to get enough to complete their journeys. This ensures that there is more petrol then normal travelling around the country in the fuel tanks of private cars.

If it could be agreed by all petrol retailers that a minimum quantity would be charged for, this would make motorists wait until they needed to fill up. The minimum should be in the region of 35 litres.

Steve Manning

Nantwich, Cheshire

Give the streets back to children

If the Government (in the person of Sarah Teather, Minister for Children) wants children to be able to play by the time they go to school, it needs to change the environment.

For many generations children were competent to walk to school on their own by the age of five. They were competent because they had been able to play out on the front doorstep in the street for a couple of years with their peers and older siblings. The dominance of the car in residential roads is hindering the development of our children and also reducing neighbourliness.

Rob Wheway

Director, Children's Play Advisory Service, Coventry

Pregnant pause

I was amused by Susie Rushton's item "Now I'm pregnant, I see people at their most selfish" (27 March). I was on a packed bus when in walked a smartly dressed lady, mid-thirties, obviously heavily pregnant, so I got up to give her my seat. No one else offered. She looked at me with utter disdain and said: "I'm not an invalid, you know." She accepted the seat though. If in a similar position again, I shall pretend I have not noticed. I left London several years ago and hope never to return.

Neil Angus


All at sea

Further to the recent discussion about useless objects, when I had a share in a small yacht, I was told: "The two most useless things to have on a boat are a hatstand and a naval officer."

David Foster

Whatfield, Suffolk