Letters: Stop and search

'Stop and search' statistics may not be all they seem
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The Independent Online

I am writing to inform your readers of a scheme that the British Transport Police has embarked upon to attempt to cloud their "stop and search" statistics.

While travelling to a friend's wedding, I (a 27-year-old white male) was "invited" to have a Section 44 check at a train station: the officer explained that it was a part of a national day of action, and I willingly agreed to supply my details. However, being the cynic that I am, I asked the officer whether this day of action was in fact a thinly veiled means of massaging the stop-and-search statistics. To his credit, the officer confirmed my suspicion, and was also disarmingly honest about how uncomfortable he felt about his part in the exercise.

So when statistics on the use of Section 44 powers are next released, readers should be aware that any apparent reduction in the disproportionality with which the powers are used on ethnic minorities is likely to be the result of action such as this.

More generally, I would also encourage readers to maintain a healthy scepticism towards official statistics, which are often the outcome of political bargaining rather than representative of some "objective" reality.

Liam Clegg


Tell the truth about airport expansion

In "Should we build a new airport in the sea?" (27 October), the Chief Executive of British Airways, Willie Walsh, gives all the usual reasons for an expansion of Heathrow. I cannot take Mr Walsh seriously, and nor should anyone.

It is in the interests of airlines to expand Heathrow, as it's a quick, cheap option, and even more so for British Airways with its predominance over landing slots at Heathrow. Mr Walsh is completely conflicted in this matter. His primary objective must be to maximise profits for the company and its shareholders. Indeed, it is his legal duty to act in the best interests of the company of which he is Chief Executive. Coincidentally, maximised profits benefit also Mr Walsh.

There is nothing wrong in his position, but it is ridiculous for him to pretend that he can behave impartially in the discussions which seek to influence government and public thinking in this matter. I admit my conflict: the aeroplane noise in west London is dreadful and I don't want any more of it. Let's hear the same honesty from Mr Walsh.

John Mackeonis

London W6

In an interview ("BA boss digs in for long haul", 24 October), Willie Walsh says BA doesn't get any special favours from the UK government any more. That's because it's used them all up. BA is in the dominant position it is because it was gifted T5, Gatwick North, Concorde and, crucially, thousands of free slots at Heathrow Airport. BA's competitors have had to buy their slots on the open market for up to $50m apiece.

Walsh claims we are not acting in the interests of the consumer when opposing his "merger" with American Airlines. Come on Willie, is having 79 per cent share between Heathrow and Boston in the consumer interest? Or 66 per cent between Heathrow and Chicago?

As Heathrow is full, no airline can even attempt to replicate the scale of BA/AA. Their dominance on Heathrow-US routes would enable them to squeeze out competitors and push up prices for those consumers who have no choice but to fly with them. Fortunately, the regulators are there to fully scrutinise these anti-competitive proposals.

Sir Richard Branson

President, Virgin Atlantic

Crawley, UK

A new London airport in the Thames Estuary would require a completely new, expensive, railway line to London. The map printed with your article suggests that links to a new airport might join the existing high-speed railway line through Kent. While at present disgracefully underexploited because of the delay in introducing domestic services, the UK's only new mainline railway is already over-committed.

The Channel Tunnel rail link will be used to relieve under-capacity on existing railways in Kent, and to support development of the Thames Gateway. This is in addition to likely expansion of rail travel between London and Europe and possible links to a high-speed line to the Midlands and the North.

The major railway lines into London all had to be expanded, many years ago, to provide four tracks through the suburbs. Further use of the Channel Tunnel rail link will sooner rather than later raise similar issues to relieve a bottleneck in capacity between Ebbsfleet and Stratford. Before we even get to environmental imperatives, such improvements to the rail infrastructure of London and Kent should be a higher priority than airports that will cause yet more overcrowding in the South East.

Frederic Stansfield

Canterbury, Kent

There is no guarantee that the delays facing passengers at Heathrow would be any less on "Fantasy Island" – London Mayor Boris Johnson's Thames Estuary airport wheeze (report, 27 October).

Up to 300,000 wild birds use the estuary in winter – it is safeguarded by European law to protect them. Many of these birds are in decline, largely because their habitats have been destroyed elsewhere. They could not be easily moved – the chances of finding legally required replacement sites are negligible – so the threat of birdstrike, and the delays and danger that would cause, could be huge.

The government is likely to accept soon that the aviation and shipping sectors must be forced to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions. There is little hope of hitting the UK's new 80-per-cent emissions cuts target if they do not.

The Conservatives back this target and are against a third runway at Heathrow because our emissions will rise if one is built. It is time senior Tories made public their view of Mayor Johnson's airport plan.

Dr Mark Avery

RSPB, Sandy, Bedfordshire

UK gets the bank bailout it deserves

Jeremy Warner (22 October) compares Gordon Brown's bank-bailout plan unfavourably with bank bailouts in Europe and the US. But in Europe the banks have, overall, behaved much better and, in the main, have not tried to foist credit cards with very high interest rates on to anyone they could find, or offered people mortgages of 100 per cent or more.

According to figures compiled by Credit Action in 2006, British people hold two thirds of the entire EU credit-card debt. And Warner's own graph last month for house-price inflation showed that since 1970, such inflation in the UK, which has been fuelled by excessive bank lending, particularly from the banks that have had to be bailed out, is much larger than that of any of the five other G7 countries on the graph.

Is it really surprising then that Gordon Brown has had to provide some British banks with more capital than governments in other countries have had to do; and has had to take control of some of these banks to control their excessive lending?

As for Sir Fred Goodwin's comment, highlighted by Warner: "Less of a negotiation, more of a drive-by shooting", I don't suppose, at that point, that he realised he had done anything wrong.

Dr John Baker

Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria

As somebody who has had business operations in both the UK and China for some years, I believe that the root of the current financial crisis lies in the borrow-and-enjoy lifestyle, which started in the US and since has been adopted by the rest of the western world.

Too many people borrow far beyond their means. I was once stunned to learn that one of my company employees spent a lavish holiday on board a cruise ship, but was told there was nothing strange about it in the UK.

China's car market saw some 8 million cars sold in 2007, over 80 per cent of which were paid with cash, meaning no loans were made. That is why China is the least affected in the current economic weather.

Linbao Zhang

Watford, Hertfordshire

Brand and Ross should be sacked

Two extremely well-paid BBC presenters, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, made a series of obscene phone calls during a radio show to a 78-year-old actor that left him deeply upset. The BBC is reportedly standing by them (27 October).

Am I alone in thinking that neither of these two so-called celebrities should receive another penny of taxpayers' money from the BBC for the rest of their careers? Is the BBC totally lacking in moral fibre?

Philip Jones

Bury, Lancashire

Does the continuing popularity of presenters such as Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, and the astronomical salaries they are paid at public expense, mean that we should all bear some responsibility for their puerile and offensive behaviour? Let's hope, for their sakes, that public opinion will have demanded a more mature approach by the time Messrs Ross and Brand's own daughters and grand-daughters are old enough to attract the inane attentions of similarly vacuous "entertainers".

Francis Kirkham

Crediton, Devon

The scapegoating of religious belief

Johann Hari ("Dare we stand up for Muslim women?" 23 October) brings to our attention some great evils perpetrated in the name of religion. But it is instructive to note how he thinks we might "practically side" with the victims: "First: no more bogus 'respect' for fundamentalism within open societies. If you literally follow an ancient Holy Text – whether it's the Koran, the Bible or the Torah – you will hold disgusting views about women and you should expect to have them criticised and mocked."

Strange. I think most of us would have thought the practical place to begin was with the rule of law, which ensured that when women were bathed in acid, the culprits were arrested and convicted. But no, the bogeys of religion are much more important.

Anyone who has spent more than 20 minutes reading any sacred scripture will know that "literal" interpretation is just not possible: these texts are too dense and too internally diverse to have only the one reading. So some attempting (and failing) a literal interpretation will hold disgusting views about women. Yes. But others won't. You have to do the hard work of really listening to people, instead, as Hari does, of simply conflating different things according to prior prejudices.

The Rev Patrick Morrow

London SE5

Mountain marathon

The way some hundreds if not thousands of hardy types set out in such filthy weather to cross the Fells reminded me of the England I grew up in. It's good to see it hasn't gone for ever.

Tim Symonds

Burwash, East Sussex

After a weekend of magnificent work by the rescue services on the Lakeland marathon disaster, the organisers of which appear to have got off scot free, it is hoped they have the decency to donate their £212,000 entrance fees to the rescue services to cover some of the cost of sorting out this mess.

Mike Parker


MoD pension policy

While serving in the Ministry of Defence it was my task to negotiate pay with the Office of Manpower Economics, a branch of the Treasury. For specialist groups we would agree the civil analogue, add the "x" factor for service life, and then the Mandarin present would say "deduct 10 per cent for the non-contributory pension". Additionally, service pensions were always officially referred to as "deferred pay" ("Time for a hard look at pensions", 22 October).


Crickhowell, Powys

Royals and tourism

So the Duke of Edinburgh thinks that tourism is "national prostitution", and that we don't need any more of the tourists that he says ruin cities (Philip Hensher, 27 October). Presumably this means we will no longer hear his family's apparent ability to attract these damaging hordes, cited as justification for its preservation.

Martin Driver

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Designer tomatoes

I'm all for healthy options ("Purple tomato created to fight cancer", 27 October), but why do scientists need to extract genes of a different plant (snapdragon) to create a GM tomato with more purple pigments? Instead, they could have worked with some of the existing (conventionally bred) old species, that have been lost or forgotten. A whole range of varieties – from striped to black, from pear-shaped to miniature, from fleshy to hollow – have gone from the shelves because the consumer has been told that only red tomatoes are good tomatoes.

Sonja Karl


US election prediction

Since Barack Obama looks like winning the US presidential election, before any headline writers use it, I would like to take this opportunity to say "McCain has had his chips".

W Flood