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Tuesday 18 September 2012
Letters: Royals stripping off is hardly news
Oh dear, topless photographs of the female half of a very privileged young couple have appeared in a French magazine. The media make this trivial matter the top news story, and various commentators make pompous and absurd remarks about invasion of privacy.
Spokespeople for St James's Palace (who are these people?) express the anger of the young couple and their intention to sue, although as yet they have not threatened France with a gunboat or two.
Meanwhile, more innocent people are killed in Syria, Arab rioters continue to trash American buildings to express their outrage about a poorly made film said to insult Moslems (none of them will, of course, have seen the film) and British soldiers continue to be killed in Afghanistan.
Perhaps a little perspective is in order and we should not get too excited when young members of the Royal Family take their kit off; it seems to happen too often to be news.
Professor Brian S Everitt
I felt the same abhorrence as others regarding our future queen's exposure and a certain protectiveness towards the Duchess of Cambridge. But to me, it seems bizarre, that sympathies around the world were directed to an indecent action towards our Royal Family when we, as British women, have to tolerate daily offerings of topless women dished up to us in the press.
Surely, now is the time to address this wrongdoing for good? I would have liked to have seen discussion of the correlation between the Duchess of Cambridge's plight and this outdated, chauvinistic practice of topless models.
Cheadle Heath, Stockport
I chatted to French neighbours over the weekend about the unusually warm weather, the roadworks, the new president and his government, the rugby… but none of them had the slightest interest in the topless Duchess of Cambridge photos shock-horror story. Are they "the French" that your correspondents (and some of your writers) are banging on about?
With the topless royal pictures story still making news headlines, I can only conclude that the media silly season this year has been delayed by the Olympics and may even extend to cover the forthcoming Liberal Democrat conference.
Jailing women punishes their children
I was heartened to see your article "Children in peril as women are jailed in record numbers" (17 September). Your investigation draws attention to the ways in which children are affected by the incarceration of their mothers and to the deleterious effects that prison has upon women.
The Howard League for Penal Reform recently submitted research to the United Nations which identified that at least 17,000 children are separated from their mothers every year, causing long-term emotional, social, material and psychological damage. Much of this damage could be avoided, as almost two-thirds of women are in prison for non-violent offences and could be serving sentences in the community.
Your focus on the number of babies imprisoned with their mothers behind bars in eight mother-and-baby units echoes another long-standing Howard League campaign. We have recently been working with members of the House of Lords to seek the closure of units for babies inside jails, as the handful of women who require custody could be held in small local units with their children.
Prisons are not safe for women and not healthy for babies. We are calling for the closure of women's prisons and more intelligent ways of responding to women's offending, and for the rights and needs of children to come first.
Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform, London N1
Your report highlighting the excessive number of women imprisoned in this country, raises a number of questions. For example, what can explain the fact that more British than European women offend so seriously that prison is the only legal outcome?
What alternatives to prison are being explored for single mothers who offend, in order to mitigate the traumatic effects on their children, with all the costs to society that such maternal absence is likely to involve?
And is it really more shameful to imprison single mothers than single fathers who commit identical crimes, since the children left bereft of parental care will suffer in much the same ways?
Deadly fences at Hillsborough
I listened with sadness at the news coverage of the Hillsborough inquiry and feel a wider truth has not been acknowledged. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, no blame should be placed on the football supporters for the innocent lives lost that day.
However, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, away fans were met at railway stations by police with dogs. They were then kettled and walked en masse to the home ground, surrounded by police with both horses and dogs. They were placed in fenced-off areas, surrounded by police and stewards, usually with a large empty terraced area between rival fans.
If these were the precautionary measures necessary to ensure public safety at football matches, then football should not have been allowed to be played in public until the problem of football violence had been fully addressed. The establishment and the football authorities, in neglecting to deal with the problem of football violence over the years, allowed tragic, innocent deaths to occur in stadiums where merely to be present placed oneself, or one's family, in harm's way.
I wholeheartedly welcome the Hillsborough panel's findings, which have finally confirmed the truth of the despicable behaviour on the part of officialdom in trying to cover up the true circumstances of the tragedy. I am baffled, however, by David Cameron's apology to the Hillsborough survivors and their families.
Like Tony Blair's apology for slavery a few years back this is a meaningless gesture on the part of a prime minister who in no way shares the blame for what he is apologising for. Cameron and Blair made these empty conciliatory gestures while continuing blithely to push ahead with hugely damaging policies that really would have merited an apology.
Many people assume that the Hillsborough disaster must have been caused by fans pushing at the back. This is not so. A densely packed crowd behaves like a viscous liquid. Those in the middle must move with the flow or fall. At Hillsborough the liquid mass flowed downhill, crushing those at the front.
Pesticides and damage to bees
Bees are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to policy failings for pesticides. No surprises that the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) and Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP) have not acted on pesticides linked to adverse impacts on bees. (Michael McCarthy, 7 September). They have not acted to protect residents exposed to adverse impacts from pesticides sprayed near homes, schools and playgrounds either.
The CRD receives approximately 60 per cent of its funding from the agrochemical industry. This has always been an inappropriate structure. There is no doubt that the widespread use of pesticides in farming is causing serious damage to the environment, wildlife and, above all, human health.
It makes clear economic sense for the UK to shift agricultural policy towards non-chemical farming methods in order to reduce dependency on pesticides, which is one of the main aims of the new European legislation on pesticides.
UK Pesticides Campaign, Chichester, West Sussex
In 2009, several national agencies prepared a report for the European Food Safety Agency which pointed to the multifactorial origin of bee colony losses in Europe. This has been reinforced by a wide body of scientific evidence pointing to damage caused by the parasitic mite Varroa and the loss of nutrition and habitat for pollinators.
Often the link between pesticides and declines in bee health is presented as a given. This ignores the declines in bee health in places where pesticides are not used and that neonicotinoid-based seed treatments have been used safely across millions of hectares of European crops for more than 10 years.
The sustainability of our business and agriculture depends on the sustainability of pollinators and we should all focus on finding real solutions to this serious problem.
Dr Phil Botham
Head of Product Safety, Syngenta, Bracknell, Berkshire
Bags of obscenity
I find it obscene that The Independent should devote space to "The ten best designer handbags" (17 September), all but one of which cost well over £1,000, some nearer £2,000, when there is so much financial hardship around us. I doubt that many readers would spend that sort of money on a handbag, even if they could afford it. I spend no more than £30-£40 and I think my handbags look every bit as good as those illustrated. Actually, I like my bags better (I only have two, plus one evening bag that I got in a charity shop).
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
Not our mistake
Andy McSmith questions the TaxPayers' Alliance release which exposed the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) paying £110 per megawatt/hour for its energy – more than any other Whitehall department (Diary, 15 September). Citing a denial from Vince Cable's department, Mr McSmith observes that "somebody, somewhere has miscalculated". If so, the error does not lie with the TaxPayers' Alliance. Our research was based on the latest Quarterly Data Summary (QDS) published by each department. The QDS published by BIS in April states the "average price of energy" for the department as exactly the figure we published.
Chief Executive, The TaxPayers' Alliance, London SW1
Wikipedia may be deficient in its recognition of distinguished women scientists (report, 15 September), but all five whose brief profiles you print have comprehensive entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. There are also entries in Who Was Who for four of them. Both these reference works are accessible online at no charge via library membership. While Wikipedia meets a need, it is no substitute for professionally written and edited sources.
Owen Jones makes a valuable contribution to the debate on the privatisation of public services (10 September) but he lets the trade unions off scot-free. I have been using trains almost daily for the past 11 years and I have not missed a single journey due to industrial action. If I had been making these journeys 30 years ago, it would have been chaos.
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