Letters: Symptoms and shaken babies


It is unsafe to rely on symptoms alone in 'shaken baby' cases

Sir: The latest round of appeals demonstrates again the highly complex and controversial issues involved in "shaken baby syndrome".

A month or so after Sally Clark's conviction in 1999 I attended, as a lawyer, a medical and legal conference in London on the subject. The experience was startling. The most eminent medical experts in the country were assembled and delivered lectures. The "constellation" of symptoms that were considered to determine SBS was examined by each of them. Any preconception that this was an exact science was dispelled, for me, in the first hour, and my conclusion at the end of the day was that the conviction of any person based on symptoms alone, without direct evidence that they had shaken the child, must be risky in the extreme.

Potential innocent causes for all the symptoms, the degree of force required to shake a child and cause such symptoms, the correlation between the severity of the symptoms and the supposed severity of force used, as well as the timing of injuries, were all fraught with controversy. Some medical experts demonstrated attitudes that were notably hostile towards others whose views were considered to be extreme yet who, nevertheless, regularly gave evidence for the prosecution in such cases.

In such circumstances, the lottery of expecting a jury to choose between one set of experts and another, and thus to determine whether a bereaved mother is or is not to serve life imprisonment, is augmented from the bemusing to the simply terrifying.

We should be very clear about this. If Sally Clark's family had not waged their crusade for more than three years, fighting on after her first appeal had been rejected, many many more parents would continue to be tried and convicted in the same game of chance.



Despite bombings, it's no 'city of fear'

Sir: Over the past few years, I've admired The Independent's sober-minded scepticism around the rhetoric of the "war on terror". It therefore seems a shame that you should now be helping to whip up hysteria following the London bombings by running a sensationalist headline like "City of fear".

Surely Thursday's botched attacks show above all that al-Qa'ida is not the mighty force that both they and the neoconservative advocates of endless-war would like us to believe. This group may well have the intention to inflict thousands of casualties, but just like the IRA of the 1980s it has limited manpower, limited resources and, crucially, a limited ability to operate without the detection of the security services. The 7 July attacks were a tragedy. Thursday's were a farce. What we've seen over the last few weeks is al-Qa'ida trying its very best, and it is frankly not that impressive.

I do not live in a "City of fear". Neither is my country "burning with fear and panic". The average Londoner is still rather more likely to win the lottery, or die from passive smoking, than they are to die in a terrorist attack.



Sir: Your front page headline "City of fear", in large type, is an insult to the millions of us who live or work in London and who will not be cowed by these criminals. Also, it will lead the terrorists to believe that they are getting somewhere, whereas the reality on the ground is very different indeed. I am proud of my fellow citizens of this great city. F D Roosevelt said: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Your headline can only serve to stoke it up.



Sir: May I suggest that in view of the declared intention of terrorists to see that "Britain is burning with fear, terror and panic" (report, 22 July) it is inappropriate to headline your front page with the words "City of fear". This gives the impresson, quite wrongly, that they have succeeded, and sends the wrong signals to other countries.



Sir: Your screaming front page today (Friday) is a disgrace, and on the most contemptible tabloid level. The new round of attempted bombings in London yesterday raises profoundly serious issues. Why does a supposedly responsible paper set out to stoke up public anxiety in this way, and incidentally at the same time to play right into the hands of would-be terrorists whose aim is to cause precisely that fear and dismay?



Sir: Your front cover is generally the most imaginative on the news stand. That was also the case this morning (Friday), but in the wrong sense.

London is not a "City of fear". There may have been a brief hiatus when news of the bombs broke, but when it became clear that no one had been injured everyone got back to work. The FTSE didn't budge. Everyone travelled home or went out for drinks or dinner as normal. There was more concern over England's first innings collapse against Australia.

My journey in on the Tube this morning was as it always is. All my colleagues turned up for work as usual. The people behind these attacks obviously intended to create terror. Your headline, erroneously and irresponsibly, assured them that they had succeeded.



Sir: Shame on The Independent for the front page headline "City of fear". We are not afraid!



Changing reactions to the attacks

Sir: I work within 500 metres of the site of the Liverpool Street bomb and live within 500 metres of Thursday's attempted bus bombing. However I noticed a striking difference in the aftermath of each incident. On 7 July I received calls from people I had not heard from for over five years, concerned for my welfare. Yesterday, no calls. The office TV screens were soon switched from the news back to the cricket. Is this a defiant London, telling the world it will not be beaten? Or is it simply a jaded, over-tired, over-worked population, resigning itself to a new status quo?



Millions 'betrayed' by our leaders

Sir: Please can I assure Atif Chaudhary that young Muslims are not the only ones despairing of their leaders (letters, 21 July).

There are millions of ordinary English people who feel our leaders are not speaking in our name. Remember the "stop the war" march? In my family only my husband marched, but there were another four there in spirit: my daughter and son-in-law, who were away at the time; me, who was baby-sitting; and my mother, who is 89 and disabled. If this was true of all the marchers, there must be up to 10 million British people at least who did not want their country to invade Iraq.

It's not just Muslims who feel betrayed by their leaders. Tony Blair's sort of "Christianity" and "ethical foreign policy" leave me feeling sick with despair. I hope young Muslims like Atif Chaudhary realise this.



Sir: When Islamic extremists were confirmed as carrying out the Madrid train bombings last year there was no doubt among the vast majority of Spaniards that their government's intervention in Iraq had led to these horrendous acts. In fact the Spanish government immediately arranged for troops to come home. Why then, is Tony Blair's government fudging what is obvious to everyone else in Britain? Why is it so slow to admit that the Iraq invasion will continue to provoke home-grown terrorism?

This is hardly the time for playing politics. It is a time for honesty and for those responsible for taking Britain to war to admit that mistakes were made. It is also time for Tony Blair to come up with a clear deadline for UK withdrawal and a far more pro-active and independent involvement in the Middle East peace process.



Sir: The charge of double standards towards victims of violence cuts both ways. I don't recall any public expression of outrage from the leaders of Muslim organisations, or from Muslims in letters to newspapers or on phone-in radio programmes, against the Muslim government of Sudan for being responsible for the deaths of huge numbers of black, mainly Muslim, Sudanese in Darfur since February 2003, many of them directly at the hands of government-sponsored militias.



Sir: Explaining how murdering innocent people through suicide bombing can be compatible with Islamic belief usually relies on the fact that, like all religious texts, the Koran is open to interpretation.

Islamic religious leaders are increasingly willing to condemn these acts of violence, stressing that they not supported by the majority interpretation of the Koran. Perhaps potential suicide bombers should be reminded that, however sincerely held their beliefs, if they get it wrong, far from becoming martyrs and receiving their due reward in paradise, they will be instead eternally disgraced and condemned to perpetual torment.



State sector fails dyslexic pupils

Sir: I would like to offer an explanation to the numbers of pupils diagnosed with dyslexia in the private sector compared to state schools ("Dyslexic discrepancy", letters, 21 July).

My son attended state primary school. Aged eight, after expressing concern at school on many occasions, we took him for assessment to an educational psychologist, who diagnosed dyslexia. His primary head teacher told me that had he been disruptive or violent he would have been given help. As he was withdrawn and his educational standard was at an "acceptable" level he was not given any extra help.

It is my belief that teachers in the state system are not encouraged to suggest a child may be dyslexic because they know there is no extra funding. Before being allowed extra time in examinations, all dyslexics, whether in the state or private sector have to be tested by an educational psychologist at a specified period of time before the exams.

Yes, we paid for a special school and yes, we then sent our son to a private school with specialist back up. Any caring parent would do the same if financially able.



Heath's drive to enter Europe

Sir: J A Russell's letter ("Edward Heath's 'great success' lay in correcting a mistake", 20 July) is oversimplified and erroneous. Heath did not make three attempts to enter the Common Market, but two, the first on behalf of Macmillan's government in the early 60s, which was rebuffed by de Gaulle, and the second during the early 70s, which resulted in success when Pompidou was in charge in France. De Gaulle's second veto was delivered, not to Heath, but to Harold Wilson and George Brown, in 1967.

It is also odd to blame Macmillan for not signing the treaty of Rome in 1957. Given the evidence of opinion polls which suggested that the public as a whole was strongly hostile to the European adventure, Macmillan could not have persuaded his party - and he was one of the few pro-European Tories - that joining the six was anything other than electoral suicide.

It should also be remembered that Labour's hostility was, if anything, even greater. It was, after all, Clement Attlee and Ernie Bevin who had refused to join the Common Market's precursor, the European Coal and Steel Community, in 1950. A mistake occurs when a path which could have been taken is spurned. That description does not fit 1957.



Old age: the way to go

Sir: Neil Langley's letter regarding the alleged misuse of the expression "old age" in reference to Sir Edward Heath's cause of death (letter, 21 July), is wrong in fact and in law. The term was introduced many years ago as a legitimate cause on death certificates, thus relieving the surviving relatives from the misery of an unnecessary autopsy, as well as saving the coroner considerable, also unnecessary, expense. According to Home Office guidelines: "Attribution to 'old age' commonly arises where the deceased may have been suffering from a number of conditions leading to death but where it may not be possible to decide which particular condition led to the death".



Sir: Your correspondent Mr Langley is obviously unaware that "old age" is an acceptable diagnosis on a death certificate. Rather than believing it ageist I suspect most people would also aspire to such a final statement, implying as it does a peaceful and non-premature demise.



Curfew on teenagers

Sir: What, pray, are under-16s doing roaming around town centres after 9pm ("Boy, 15, overturns evening curfew on teenagers", 21 July)? Unless they are returning home from the cinema or theatre I can see no reason for them to be out so late.



Policy in the pub

Sir: I have to say that Joan Smith (Opinion, 21 July) is unfair to the drinking fraternity in likening a particular government strategy to "policy being dreamed up by a bloke in a pub". I can assure her that over time the group of four drinkers to which I belong have had a better track record than the Government on key policy issues, notably Iraq. The key to our superior judgement could be the size of the group, or perhaps it's the beer.



Saving water

Sir: I do wonder, after reading Alan Keslian's letter of 21 July about deliberately co-inciding pee-urges in order to save water - who gets to go first?



Sir: With regard to the water shortage (report, 19 July), what is wrong with linking up all water companies in England. The North must have more than necessary.



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