Letters: Scapegoating Professor Meadow

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The Independent Online

Sir: Many of us working with child abuse will share a sense of astonishment and injustice that the GMC has struck Professor Roy Meadow off the medical register (report, 16 July). The GMC, which often protects its own, this time joins media and public scapegoating in a sweepingly inappropriate action against an expert witness. And one who had dedicated his professional career to trying to protect children.

Not only has no one ever claimed that Meadow used the faulty statistics with deliberate malicious intent: he was only one of four expert witnesses in the Sally Clark trial, and the judge specifically warned that jury against relying on statistical evidence. Is the jury to be penalised too, and the defence barrister for not pointing out to them Meadow's lack of qualifications as a statistician? The court of appeal which freed Ms Clark did not blame Meadow, but criticised the fact that there had been no formal consideration at the trial of whether statistical evidence should have been admitted at all.

The fault in these cases lies overwhelmingly with the legal system. Mothers such as Sally Clark, Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony should never have been tried for murder in the first place; the charge should have been infanticide, which usually results in probation or supervision. It is senseless logic to have an infanticide law on the statute book in an acknowledgment that a mother may be psychiatrically unwell in a baby's first year of life, yet to have no means of using that law unless the mother first admits her guilt. It is the hardest thing in the world for a mother to admit, and if she was unwell she may not even remember causing the child's death. Baroness Helena Kennedy and Professor Alan Craft, among others, have made these points.

The second major way of reducing wrongful convictions and establishing innocence lies in the painstaking collection of accurate evidence at the scene of tragic deaths of babies. Important recommendations have been made on this, including those of the 2004 report chaired by Baroness Kennedy, "Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy".

I hope all those who are baying in delight at the GMC's judgment will direct their concern about injustices in these cases to reforms which will actually make a difference in future.



'Moderate' Muslims have been ignored

Sir: The distant kinship between us and the white community of Zimbabwe is enough to stir many in the UK to great concern and anger. How much more impressive is the Islamic concept of the Ummah; a strong feeling of family, based on religious identity, that transcends race, nationality, or doctrine.

The United States, with the support of the United Kingdom, has been slaughtering members of this family on a ghastly scale for many years. Could we not do more to imagine the sheer rage this must generate? Why should education and material comfort lessen such feelings?

Furthermore, many British Muslims have enduring ties with their communities of origin where the sense of outrage is particularly intense, helping to reinforce their own quite proper reaction to murder.

It is now being suggested that the Muslim community in the UK should be doing more to confront extremists, but just how hard do we want to make it for them? The extremists are able to state, quite correctly, that the opposition of "moderate" British Islam has not been heard by government and so is seen, understandably, as having failed.

The idea that the bombers want to impose an Islamic state on us is a nasty and self-serving lie. They want us to stop murdering Muslims. Of course the government, and those in the opposition who supported them over Iraq, could not survive in power if this simple fact were acknowledged. The bombers cannot be excused, but they were nurtured by the actions of our Government. Shame on all those who re-elected them .



Sir: Rajnaara C Akhtar is right (Opinion, 16 July). If groups are to be steered away from extremes of violence, trust needs to be fostered, and the conviction born that issues underlying real anger and grievance can be seriously addressed and redressed within a democratic dialogue and will not be summarily dismissed by those in power.

The rejection by the Government of mass peaceful protest against the Iraq war has not helped the situation of the last weeks and this should be officially acknowledged.

Sadly, Blair's latest slogan of an "evil ideology" within Islam is more likely to widen and entrench divisions than promote an inclusive democratic dialogue. It seems also designed to shield controversial foreign policy from scrutiny and accountability.

If the bombings are to stop we need to learn the lesson that "terrorism" is not some alien malignancy without rationale or context. It is the cost in anger and despair of the failure of democratic engagement.



Israel and London are not equivalent

Sir: As a Palestinian living in London, I was dismayed by Professor Cohen's letter (16 July). By seeking to draw parallels between the incomprehensible and unjustifiable attacks in London and the conflict in the Middle East, Professor Cohen is crassly repeating the same mistake of the Foreign Minister of his adoptive country.

He claims that the recent suicide bombings in Netanya occurred "despite the temporary ceasefire", but neglects to mention that in the last three months alone 46 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli violations of the ceasefire. Indeed, if we apply Professor Cohen's morbid arithmetic to the Palestinian population, where more than 3,000 have been killed out of a total population of about three and a half million in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since September of 2000, this would be equivalent to roughly one thousand London bombings perpetrated in Britain over five years.

The London bombings were a human tragedy and should not be used by Israel and her defenders to score cheap diplomatic points.



Sir: I certainly sympathise with the individual Israeli victims mentioned by Professor Cohen in his letter. However, I hope the British government does not model its response on that of the Israeli government: ie, that it does not dispatch bulldozers to knock down houses in Leeds, including those of people who have no connection with the bombers. I hope, too, that it does not open fire, supposedly on militants, but somehow managing to kill or maim a number of innocents much larger than that of the innocents killed in the bombing. It will be very pleasing also, if it does not manage to shoot a large number of children. So, you have my sympathy Professor Cohen, but can't you learn a lesson about your own government's behaviour?



Violence should never be lauded

Sir: Perhaps bombing generally needs a bad name. Given that we might make it illegal to describe suicide bombers as martyrs, might we not also pen a law that proscribes the flattering of those engaged in non-suicidal bombing (say from the cockpits of $50m airplanes flown thousands of feet above any risk of reprisal) as being heroes?

Imagine that the delivery of the nuclear weapons to Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been on a one-way instead of two-way ticket. Would the bombers still have been dispatched to work Einstein's magic upon the tens of thousands of innocent civilians who never voted to bomb Pearl Harbor? And if they were, would they not have been suicide bombers? And wouldn't their names, rather than that of their plane, today be on our lips? And wouldn't their President and Prime Minister declare, invoking God, that they had gone to a better place? Christianity and Judaism are no less cults of death. The difference is that their beloved practitioners of murder, unlike those of Islam, have the economic and technological luxury of living to kill another day. Indeed many of them end their lives in high office. How this is a difference for the better escapes me.



Sir: Beginning with the misery of 7 July's atrocity set against a background of Olympic jubilation, there have been many sad contrasts these past days. One of the most poignant, hardly noticed so far, has yet to emerge from behind police cordons. When you can, visit and sit a while in Tavistock Square, London's unofficial "Peace Garden". At the centre is a statue of Gandhi, looking directly to the spot where the No 30 bus was blown up. The head is bowed, weeping yet again for a world which repeatedly fails to understand the path of non-violence. Surely it is all leaders, not just Muslim ones, who need to take note.



There's no profit in drugs for the poor

Sir: While full credit should be given to the scientists who helped decode the gene maps of various parasites (report and leading article, 15 July), it's difficult to see what difference the new knowledge will make.

We have known a great deal about the parasites that cause tropical diseases for a long time, but this knowledge has not been translated into mass-produced, safe and effective treatments. The fact that the people who suffer these illnesses happen to be some of the poorest in the world might have something to do with it. In order to develop a drug and bring it to market a pharmaceutical company spends hundreds of millions of pounds. The process does not begin unless the company thinks it can make a decent profit.

The reality is that it is the legal duty of corporations to act in the financial interests of their shareholders and they do this by acting in ways to sustain and increase their profits regardless of the social consequences. I don't say this to dismiss the recent scientific advances in this field as worthless but to draw attention to the fact that so long as the pharmaceutical industry is run for shareholders, and not as a state-funded public service, it will fund research into potentially very profitable treatments for chronic, non-fatal first world ailments while ignoring third world illnesses that kill millions every year.



Charge of corruption in Lords unfounded

Sir: In his tendentious attack on Charles Kennedy (Opinion, 12 July), Donnachadh McCarthy referred to what he described as "the corrupt practice of Liberal Democrat peers working as political lobbyists". He then proceeded to a personal attack on two of my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords.

It is not a corrupt practice for members of the House of Lords, whatever political party they belong to, to work for businesses which conduct political lobbying. The Committee on Standards in Public Life (of which I was a member at the time), in its Report on Standards of Conduct in the House of Lords, published in November 2000, recommended that peers having interests in businesses involved in parliamentary lobbying should refrain from participating in parliamentary business when that business related to their own personal clients, but not otherwise. This recommendation represents the current practice of the House, and to the best of my belief it has not been contravened by anyone.



An almighty mess

Sir: In all the breast-beating about terrorism and its causes, few are prepared to acknowledge that it is a fight to the death between and among alliances of mostly Muslim, Christian and Hebrew fundamentalists, all of whom have been told directly by their respective divinities that they have sole rights to various parcels of land, that only they and their followers are eligible for eternal bliss, and that all non-believers should be wiped from the face of the earth. God must really hate us, or he wouldn't have given us religion.



Dangerous assertions

Sir: As our television screens and newspapers fill with reports of terrorist atrocities across the globe, our Prime Minister's continuing assertion that he has helped to make the world a safer place thanks to the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam Hussein makes me wonder just how violent it would be if we hadn't taken such action.



An effort to keep cool

Sir: Today I received the Department of Health's booklet telling me how to cope in a heatwave. Whatever would I have done without their advice to stay in the shade, wear light clothing and take plenty of drinks? Perhaps if money were not being wasted on such patronising projects as this, I would not be going to to work in an NHS hospital with no air conditioning, in temperatures of up to 39 degrees, caring for hapless patients lying in pools of sweat on waterproofed mattresses and pillows. Still, at least I can offer them a handy little booklet to fan themselves with.



Inevitability of attack

Sir: Terrorist attacks on London are inevitable but 7/7 wasn't. There's no mistake in thinking that. So there is, contrary to Andrew Belsey's contention (letter, 15 July), a point in having security services. Death is inevitable, but that isn't an argument against doctors.



Confused identity

Sir: Jonathan Rhys Meyers was born in 1977 in Dublin, moved to Cork, where he lives, when he was a year old, although he also has a house in Morocco and spends a lot of time in Los Angeles. On 15 July, reporting on Emmy contenders, The Independent said "Branagh ... will face competition from another British actor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers". I know we are all Londoners this week, but do we all have to be British as well?



Don't blame the birds

Sir: "Seabirds are putting human health at risk by depositing man-made pollutants from the ocean on land, scientists say in the journal Science". (report, 15 July). Surely humans are putting humans at risk by depositing these pollutants in the sea in the first place?