Letters: Slavery apology

Slavery was a huge crime, but would an apology help now?
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Sir: Slavery was and is an abhorrent institution, and was rightly abolished, at times with a great cost, during the 19th century. Nor can there be any doubt that racism has some of its roots in slavery.

But for people not alive at the time to apologise to people not alive at the time would be as A C Grayling says ("Slavery: is it time for an apology?" 11 May), a meaningless and empty gesture of political correctness, which would open the floodgates either to demands for compensation or for apologies for other historical injustices.

The suffering brought about by slavery should be remembered so that it will never happen again, but no apology should be made. Modern Britain, after all, is not the guilty party that practices slavery, nor have modern Africans been made victims of it.



Sir: A C Grayling completely misses the point. The effects of the African slave trade are still in evidence today. The unremitting poverty of the African continent, where today 30,000 children under the age of five die from preventable disease and hunger every single day, is a hangover from the four hundred years of western colonialism which laid waste to that continent and retarded its development.

Not is it only right that cities that were built on this disgusting trade, such as Bristol, issue an official apology, but nations which profited from that trade should pay suitable reparations to the African people, who continue to suffer its modern equivalent in the shape of the neoliberalism which Mr Grayling alludes to in his column.



Sir: I would like to apologise for Bristol's involvement in the slave trade.It was not until I reached adulthood that I discovered that my education at Colston Girls' School in Bristol in the 1960s was based on the corrupted wealth of this merchant venturer. I am now ashamed to tell people where I was educated.



Lessons of the London bombs

Sir: The argument that the security services could have stopped the London bombers if they had had more resources is so facile. Surely it was a case of the management of the resources they already had (incidentally massively increased since 9/11) rather than the need for more.

If they knew these men were a risk they should have used their resources to put them under surveillance. The failure to do so was an error of managerial judgement and had nothing to do with resources.

The resources argument is one constantly trotted out by the security services to cover their tracks. It is clever because it is a catch-all argument. While there are no atrocities they can claim they are stopping such things happening but require more money and power to continue to keep us all safe. When an attack takes place, such as last July, instead of take responsibility they say, "We needed more resources."

There is a complete lack of rigour and accountability in this area which generally results in an open cheque book approach toward the security services. That is why the victims of the London bombings are right when they call for a full public inquiry.



Sudanese tribute to General Gordon

Sir: It is good to find Gordon of Khartoum portrayed as not quite the half-crazed brandy-and-soda-fixated fundamentalist notoriously denigrated by Lytton Strachey in Eminent Victorians ("The truth about Gordon of Khartoum", 12 May).

In the early 1980s, with Robert Hardy as co-writer and presenter, I produced a 60-minute BBC television documentary on Gordon's life for the centenary of his assassination. A key condition before being allowed to film in the Sudan was that we should submit our draft script to the scrutiny of certain local historians.

I recall a long conversation with one of them, who surprised and delighted me with his benign view of a man whom I feared he would see as essentially an arrogant British imperialist. That title he reserved for the other famous figure with the suffix "of Khartoum" attached to his name, Kitchener, much hated for his ruthless vengeance campaign of 1898, which culminated in the Battle of Omdurman.

By contrast he saluted Gordon for his care for the Sudanese people and his passionate opposition to the slave trade. He also impressed me by his portrayal of Gordon's enemy the Mahdi not, as seen in Britain at the time, as a mad whirling dervish but as an early example of a nationalist leader almost in the style of a Garibaldi. Bracketing Gordon and the Mahdi together, he stated in a memorable final sentence: "I see them both as great religious men with dreams."



Families fleeced by NHS phone charges

Sir: Is the NHS attempting to pay off its deficit by fleecing relatives and friends who phone hospital patients?

Two months ago my son was in hospital with a serious heart complaint. We were told that he would have his own phone number, which we were given. Over two days we attempted to phone him on this number six times. The first five times we simply had a recorded message telling us the system was not working; for these five calls we were charged sums varying between £1.19 and £1.43 each (plus VAT at 17.5 per cent) a total of £6.86 plus VAT.

On the sixth occasion we finally contacted our son and spoke to him for 24:47 minutes as recorded on our phone bill. For this one call we were charged £8.226 (plus VAT), so the charge for this one successful call exceeded £15 plus VAT. The total charges for the other 67 calls we made during that month were precisely £2.254 plus VAT.

Am I alone in considering these phone charges outrageous, and doubly so in that many of the patients are in hospitals far from home especially if they have been brought in after accidents on the roads. Why has the press not raised an outcry over them? What is the telephone regulator doing about them?

Use of mobile phones is banned in NHS hospitals just to ensure that patients and relatives have no choice.



Obstacles to peace in the Middle East

Sir: Henry Tobias (letter, 11 May) writes that Israel has always sought peace from Arabs and Muslims. Yet the very fact that he writes from Maale Adumim, which he claims to be in Israel, shows that this is not true.

Maale Adumim is actually an illegal settlement built within the West Bank on land stolen from the Palestinian people. As the International Court of Justice reminded the world in 2004, it is illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention. It is simply the largest of hundreds of illegal and growing settlements, containing a total of 450,000 people. It is hardly a peaceful act to use the world's fourth most powerful army to steal land from defenceless families who had been living there for centuries and then, as Ehud Olmert now wants to do, try to use force to incorporate this stolen land into Israel.



Sir: Andy Greenall (letter, 12 May) seems unable to differentiate between Iran's declared aim of wiping Israel off the map, and what he terms "Israel's efficient and comprehensive wiping of Palestine off the map". A quick look at the history books would relieve Mr Greenall of his confusion.

There was no sovereign state of Palestine to be wiped out. The establishment of a state of Palestine following a vote in the United Nations in 1947 was prevented not by Israel but the Arab world's rejection of a two-state solution to the competing territorial claims of Jews and Arabs. Israel accepted partition.

Regrettably, the current Palestinian leadership of Hamas adopts the same rejectionist position as those Arab governments 60 years ago. Ironically this continuing refusal to accept that Israel has a right to exist is the biggest obstacle to the establishment of a Palestinian state.



Portrait of a man with wallpaper

Sir: Michael Glover, in his review of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition (8 May), has chosen the portrait of my husband by Alastair Adams as an example of the very best in portrait painting. But I do take exception to the way in which he has treated my wallpaper.

He contrasts the excellence of the portrait to the choice of what he calls tasteless, grisly wallpaper. I would like him to know that the wallpaper depicted (with some artistic licence) is chosen from the Royal Horticultural Society collection and as such is in itself a work of art. I also take issue with his use of the word "ordinary" in relation to my husband. I feel that my husband is quite extraordinary and this is why I commissioned the portrait.

I do agree with the article that the quality of portrait artists today is outstanding and was extremely impressed by the exhibition and hope that it inspires more "ordinary" people to commission works. Alastair Adams has encapsulated the man in this picture and it fulfils everything that I desired in a portrait.



Perils of PR

Sir: It is just as well that steps to introduce PR before the next general election would be too time-consuming, according to Joe Patterson (Letters, 10 May). For if just 10 per cent of the nation voted for the BNP then we would end up with nearly 60 BNP MPs.



Reasons for war

Sir: Why do people such as D H O Owen (letter, 11 May) continue to claim that Tony Blair made the decision to go to war on the basis of the information available at the time? Surely everyone now realises that both Blair and Bush were aware of plenty of evidence that the war might not be such a good idea after all, but chose to ignore it.



Sir: Maybe Tony Blair did genuinely believe that Iraq had WMD before he took us to war. But if so, he made a massive mistake, and should go simply on the basis of incompetence.



National treasure

Sir: Surely Gordon Brown could have found £4.2m to keep William Blake's design for Blair's grave in the UK ("The masterpieces that were lost", 12 May). It would have made a handsome addition to the collection hanging in No 11 Downing Street. Where is the lottery funding when something truly uplifting finds its way on to the open market?



Dangerous trees

Sir: It may indeed be only a remote possibility that Sarah Fox will be killed by a conker or falling leaves. But I have seen a large bough from a mature horse chestnut in a domestic garden sever itself without warning from the tree and smash a (fortunately unoccupied) potting shed. This winter a mature beech further down the road ripped its roots up as it fell and measured its length on the dog-walkers' field. When trees get old they become dangerous and unpredictable - much like human beings.



Gardener's dilemma

Sir: Instead of being delighted to find almost no aphids on the rose bushes this afternoon I found myself worrying that our garden isn't providing sufficient protein for sparrow nestlings. Is my heart too soft, or my head?