Letters: The killing of Jacob Wragg

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Dangerous idea that it is understandable to kill a disabled child

Sir: The coverage of the killing of Jacob Wragg, a disabled boy who was at the time living his little life, happily and to the best of his ability, has moved away from a focus on the loss of Jacob's life on to the alleged stress of caring for him.

Such a discussion has the effect of suggesting all disabled children cause stress and are burdensome children within a family. The ultimate outcome of this analysis is that it is understandable that they are killed; indeed it might be thought by some that this might be the right course of action. Furthermore, the cause of the killing is seen as the child himself, so that his death is seen as a consequence of the so-called demands he made. This blames the disabled child for his/her own mis-treatment and death.

The lenient sentence in this case will contribute to beliefs that killing a disabled child is not as serious as killing a non-disabled child since now we can see that such a child has little value in the judicial system or indeed within society.

We need to challenge vigorously any legal system that begins to develop a different set of rules and thresholds where disabled children's lives are concerned. There can be no justifications for killing a defenceless disabled child. Dame Cecily Saunders, founder of the hospice movement said, "We do not have to kill the person to kill the pain." It would be dangerous for all disabled children and disabled adults if we were to ignore this fact.



Sir: Some 15 years on from the death of my four-year-old profoundly handicapped daughter I would have hoped that the situation for carers would have improved somewhat. The Markcrow and Wragg cases indicate too clearly that matters remain much the same.

Susan Kirkman (letter, 14 December) writes that she has never considered killing her own autistic son and has my respect for that. Before nature removed the decision from me, however, I often considered ending the life of my daughter. Had I felt free to make the choice, I would have ended both my daughter's life and my own, since remaining in the world without her would then have made little sense and still makes little now.

Blind and with no more mobility than a new-born, subject to bursts of fitting, evidencing no pleasure whatever through the experience of tastes or textures, latterly tube-fed and too often in pain, my daughter still smiled easily. One thing only produced signs of genuine joy in her, and that was to be bounced and played with by her dad.

The world is less without her in it, without Jacob Wragg, Mrs Markcrow's son and the many others it has and will lose. Yet the world cares little. Unless the situation has changed it would presumably still have been possible to terminate the unborn Jacob, or my Jenny or many of the others, up to the very last moment. An ill-ordered, clumsy genocide of handicapped or "possibly handicapped" human beings, whether by abortion or social neglect, is more acceptable than facing the issues.

There is too much that is wrong here. There was barely room in the church for my daughter's mourners, so many people had been touched by her, yet that does not change the fact that her life was often a torture to us simply because of the inadequacy of support available. For others it clearly remains thus.



Planners at bay in battle of Toytown

Sir: Just what is the problem with building in Britain today? Too much planning, or too little? Janet Street-Porter ("How planners blight our towns", 15 December) evidently can't make her mind up.

Before settling down to her main theme - a well-intentioned rant against town-hall bureaucrats and their Stalinist schemes of the Sixties and Seventies - she moans about private developers and their endless Toytown suburbias.

So is it modernist concrete or traditionalist brick that we should be concerned about? Probably both. But the answer isn't, as naively she thinks, to listen to "consumers". Maybe we didn't choose the concrete, but we did, and do, choose the brick. And we choose to shop at, and drive to, Tesco.

Planners in the Sixties and Seventies made mistakes, and big ones. Still, I'd rather give them, or at least the best of them, another chance, than swallow any more of this free-market consumer choice drivel.



Sir: Janet Street-Porter is very astute in her description of some of the results of the current planning system. We do indeed need a debate about the causes of planning failures.

The system is biased towards developers - for instance, they have a right to appeal that third parties are denied - to the systematic distortion of planning decisions; enforcement powers are so weak that perpetrators rarely pay fines and often get away without needing to submit a planning application.

Bias towards developers is reinforced by planning policy guidance. Alarmingly, the new draft planning policy on housing (PPS3) would require that planners must allocate land for housing, wherever possible, in response to market demand. No mention of real planning, where infrastructure, commerce and industry are planted to encourage desirable growth.

Planning is also an insular profession with no defined route from architecture, transport engineering, urban design or historic conservation. A second postgraduate degree is required to gain a further specialism, an option many planners do not take. Planning has therefore become a primary profession when it should be secondary to specialised skills. Few planning departments therefore have the collective expertise to negotiate anything more than mediocre compromise. This combines with a failure to provide enough money to tempt the truly talented from high-paid private-sector jobs to work in local government planning departments.

Be very sceptical when Labour utters the words "sustainable communities".



Sir: Poor Janet! She falls into the old trap of planner-bashing. Please let her come to our planning department in Hackney and she will be truly amazed. A committed and capable team of planners tackling the challenges of the inner city; actively promoting high-quality development and - dare it be said? - using criteria such as taste and sensitivity to make decisions which directly affect people's lives.

Far from being lost in the rush to higher quality in the built environment, planners are proud to be part of it. It's taken a while, and we welcome everyone's contribution. Janet should use her capabilities in supporting us, and not taking the over-simplistic way out. And, by the way, definitely dynamite Cumbernauld town centre.



Sir: I notice Janet Street Porter credits, among others, Ikea with raising our visual awareness and appreciation of good design.I suppose when you pass their store on the London North Circular you do say to yourself, "There must be a better way".



The hypocrisy of wind power

Sir: It seems that not a day goes by without The Independent forecasting ultimate doom. It cannot be inferred from an abnormal number of hurricanes to sweep the American shoreline this year that the end of the world is nigh. So let us not overreact; instead, let us nuclear react.

Blair's intimation that nuclear-power generation should be a part of the UK's future energy-generating profile indicates: firstly, that Labour has signally failed to meet its CO 2 emissions target; and secondly, that there is a growing resistance to on-shore windfarms.

Take, for instance, the oppositions to the Isle of Lewis "megafarm" comprising up to 300 wind turbines, and the Rimside Moor windfarm in Northumberland that could have turbines towering 350 to 400 feet high. Not only is there the obvious ugliness and danger to bird populations, but windfarms also emit "infrasound", powerful subaudible sound waves of unknown health consequences.

Windfarm development in the UK should be seen for what it is: a cynical attempt to make political capital on the world stage: the "holier than thou" syndrome. We would see windmills in Hyde Park and along the Cotswolds if the policy-makers really believed in what they were doing. As it is, they drive away to their havens of unspoilt countryside leaving their environmental disasters behind them. Why is it that such developments are proposed in areas that have very little influence on the outcome of any election?



Sir: On 3 December you stated that: "A flight to Athens emits 2,336kg of CO 2 per passenger". The correct figure is 150kg of CO 2 per passenger; you are out by more than a factor of 15.



Seeking the moral high ground in Iraq

Sir: I am sorry to have to take issue with my fellow Amnesty International member P Edwards (letter, 14 December) on Iraq.

When he says, "On balance, and in memory of all the former tyrant's victims, I am glad somebody brought him [Saddam] to book," he is saying that the killing and maiming of thousands of innocent civilians (and do remember that four out of 10 Iraqis are children under 14), was, however regrettable, a price worth paying. To hold that view it has to be a moral prerequisite to believe that you would have held it even if you and yours had had an equal chance of being body-bagged as collateral damage.

If that is his position, well and good. If it isn't, he should accept that the ethical high ground is out of bounds to those who would ask others to suffer what they themselves would not (see Bush and Cheney on Iraq and rewind to that doughty duo's stance on Vietnam).



Sir: If the reason for getting rid of Saddam was the human rights of Iraqis the US and British tanks would now be in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Pakistan or any other countries ran by dictators. If Saddam was a West-friendly dictator he would still be in power and happily gassing, boiling, and butchering his people and the West would have called him an ally in the war against terrorism.



Sir: George W Bush has stated that the coalition will not leave Iraq until "victory has been achieved". Given the recent problems over the definition of "torture" can we ask for his definition of "victory"?



Brown baffles pension trustees

Sir: Sir Geoffrey Chandler rightly condemns as regressive Gordon's Brown's decision to abolish the requirement for companies to report on their social and environmental impacts (letter, 10 December). Further, this policy reversal runs counter to the Government's professed support for socially responsible investment (SRI).

At the end of this month, the new regulatory regime for pension-scheme investment is expected to reaffirm the obligation (introduced in 2000) for scheme trustees to disclose their policy on SRI. Only this March, similar rules were applied to charities. Yet now these institutional investors are to be deprived of precisely the kind of extra-financial information which they need in order to develop SRI strategies. CHARLES SCANLAN


Secret successes

Sir: I don't doubt there are dark things going on out there, and counter-terrorism a dangerous but necessary trade. However I want to know about its "successes" in rather more detail. When are the thwarted terrorists to be brought to trial? Who are they? What did they start and then fail to finish? Where is the evidence and what is the story? Don't tell me it's a secret.



Useless punishment

Sir: Explaining his refusal of clemency to a man sentenced to death, Arnold Schwarzenneger says: "Williams has written books that instruct readers to avoid the gang lifestyle and to stay out of prison. He has also tried to preach a message of gang avoidance and peacemaking. It is hard to assess the effect of such efforts in concrete terms, but the continued pervasiveness of gang violence leads one to question the efficacy of Williams' message." Doesn't it lead one to question the efficacy of capital punishment?



History lesson

Sirs: However much in denial President Ahmadinejad may be over the Holocaust he cannot just be dismissed as an isolated fanatic as he was elected President in one of the few Middle Eastern countries still showing some respect to parliamentary democracy. I think the proper response is for the Polish President to invite President Ahmadinejad to visit Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto Monument and learn the truth at first hand. If he refuses the invitation we can draw our own conclusions about Iran's nuclear energy programme.



Spare the shark

Sir: As one who occasionally enjoys the surf I found Bethany Hamilton's story inspiring ("Triumph of a free spirit", 14 December). However, from a newspaper that campaigns courageously about the state of the natural environment, I found the article highly insensitive. The shark that attacked Bethany was described as a beast, a monster, which was, in the end, killed and "strung up". From an environmental point of view, its death was a disastrous piece of vandalism. The shark is not a biblical monster from the deep, but an endangered species which deserves protection, not persecution.



Political revolution

Sir: What is it with all the political infighting right now? Can't everything simply be cleared up by Tony Blair joining the Tories as shadow foreign secretary, Kenneth Clarke taking over the leadership of the Lib Dems and Gordon Brown facing a challenge from Charles Kennedy? We still wouldn't have a clue which way to vote, but at least it might keep the noise down.