Letters: The Mubarek report

Another public service scandal: will heads finally roll this time?
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The Independent Online

Sir: The report into the racist murder of Zahid Mubarek in custody has not only provided an insight into a decaying prison service, it has afforded us the latest instalment in a catalogue of high-profile public sector institutional blunders where failure is rewarded and accountability forsaken.

From the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in 1999 to the the Victoria Climbie inquiry in 2003 and now the Mubarek case, time and again, breathtaking individual and institutional incompetence and prejudice have been unveiled, yet nobody at the top seems willing to take responsibility for the collective failings. Unlike in the business sector, where corporate bosses are periodically reminded that power comes at a price, their public sector counterparts seem oblivious to this essential precept of organisational management. Often aided by a government averse to public scrutiny, civil servants are getting away with it.

The Mubarek report has taken the unusual step of naming and shaming 20 officials whose shortcomings jointly contributed to the fatal final outcome. It has moreover articulated the notion of "institutional religious intolerance". But it has fallen short of pointing the finger at those at the top of the organisation ultimately responsible. Is anyone resigning?

It is little wonder that public trust in government and its institutions is at an all-time low. One can hear the ordinary citizen pondering how may more inquiries into public service agencies will have to be held before someone actually takes responsibility.



Sir: Charles Clarke's attack on Tony Blair and John Reid betrays ignorance of the true dynamic of a Home Office which has been veering out of control for the past decade or more.

Crazy staffing decisions have meant that the backlog of asylum and immigration cases has outgrown the ability of the state to cope with them rationally or reasonably, leading to monstrous delays in decision-making, losses of vital documents and situations where the proper enforcement of the law becomes impossible because of the delays involved.

Meanwhile, political meddling has led to thousands upon thousands of genuine people being unfairly affected by measures which would be undreamed of in other civilised countries. Wedding guests and friends from abroad are refused short-stay visas simply because of the country that they are from.

Charles Clarke is wrong to criticise John Reid for saying that the Home Office is "not fit for purpose". Clarke's state of denial is part of a 20-year culture of governments which have forgotten how to govern.



The erosion of our civil liberties

Sir: As a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which holds the police to account in London, I read with concern your front page article by Henry Porter in response to the police confiscating copies of his article in Vanity Fair (29 June).

The arrest of Steven Jago, who was carrying copies of the article, is part of a tendency to criminalise anyone who annoys the Government, from picnickers in Parliament Square to octogenarian hecklers at party conferences. Even for those like myself who are naturally inclined to support the police in their anti-terrorist measures (on issues like Stockwell and Forest Gate), there is growing concern that the War against Terror is being used before our eyes for authoritarian and anti-democratic purposes. By also giving power to the Commissioner to decide whether to permit demonstrations, the state has unnecessarily dragged the police into a politically sensitive area.

This matter was raised on Thursday at the full meeting of the Authority, with the Commissioner promising to look into it. With members of the Authority as yet none the wiser about how a Vanity Fair article can be confused with a terrorist's manual, I wonder if the same tactic would have been used if Mr Jago had been carrying a wad of copies of Tony Blair's recent speech on Africa. I also wonder if Messrs Jago and Walter Wolfgang consider Tony Blair or Osama bin Laden to be the greater threat to their freedom.

This needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency, and this bad law overturned as soon as possible.



Sir: I was horrified to read Henry Porter's article on the restrictions that now apply to protests within 1 km of Parliament. I shall certainly be seeking written permission from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to visit the area in my lunch break, pause for a moment, and shake my head in sad reflection at this unjustifiable erosion of centuries-old rights.

Perhaps if a few hundred thousand other people were to do the same on a regular basis the administrative burden of processing so many written requests would finish off this draconian legislation once and for all.



Patients may not choose choice

Sir: Professor Julian le Grand ("Unhealthy opposition to patient choice", 26 June) claims that the British Social Attitudes survey shows that people want choice in the NHS.

Actually the survey asks a slightly different question: "How much say do you think NHS patients should have over which hospital to go to if they need treatment?" "Say" implies consultation and involvement in a choice, not so much the overall decisive authority.

Most people want a great deal or quite a lot of say. Answers to other questions show that they also want high-quality, responsive services available locally, and that the amount of say is only one in a number of factors influencing overall satisfaction with the health service.

The fact that it is the degree of say in the choice of hospital that is being talked about makes it much easier to understand that people weigh up a range of factors in forming their views on the NHS. This is not a simple issue that can be resolved by appeal to choice (or anything else).



Watching the moral death of football

Sir: Once again, James Lawton (Extra, 29 June) has candidly expressed what so many of us have known but feared to admit: that the game we love so much and which has been central to our lives for so long, is morally dead.

I watched the Spain v France encounter with two of my four sons, both of whom were supporting the French for the simple and sole reason that Thierry Henry plays for them. Their crestfallen disillusionment at the act of craven cheating from the man whose cool chic they admire so much was all too evident.



Sir: White van man and his buddy taxi boy show us how patriotic they are by mounting the George Cross on their cars and supporting the football.

These are the characters who accelerate hard, speed when they can get away with it and whinge about traffic-calming measures. They make parents anxious to let their children walk to school or play in the street. Children become lethargic and obese, just when we need to be training fit, athletic children for the London Olympics. Patriotic? They don't know what the word means.



Sir: Patriotism at the World Cup may be false and shallow (Letters, 30 June) but perhaps it is better that way; people just wave their flags, let rip their emotions and enjoy the football. It is certainly preferable to the patriotism that caused millions of deaths in a thoroughly pointless war. Remember the victims of the Somme but don't laud the mindless chauvinism that sent them there.



Don't vilify private school parents

Sir: It is interesting to read the long list of letters to The Independent vilifying private schools from the league of the "holier than thou". On their moral high ground, they fail to make admission of the fact that in many cases houses in catchment areas of good state schools attract inflated property values and only a few can pay such prices to ensure admission to a state school with a good reputation.

Many parents who choose to educate their children privately are themselves of modest means and are willing to sacrifice many of the sacred cows of the modern world: not for them a flat-screen television, a gas-guzzling four-wheel drive, a second home or countless foreign holidays a year.

These people also pay their taxes, including those to educate others from from which they choose not to benefit directly. Until everyone is prepared to invest in the future by being prepared to pay more tax to fund a universally better state education system is freedom of choice such an evil?



Hounded by the anti-smoke puritans

Sir: I was away in California when Tom Sutcliffe wrote his article "Private pleasure but shared pollution" (20 June). The New York Times last week had an article about the fact that 40 million Americans still smoke. It's about 20 per cent of the population. Well, well, forty million naughty people, how could they when all the "facts" are known? This shocks the politicians and the media people.

I have smoked for fifty years. I'm still here. In fact my old doctor (older than me anyway) said I looked ten years younger than the last he saw me - what happened? I'm still smoking I said, but I've got myself involved in an ambitious piece of work that has excited me. Life is thrilling, almost too much at times - a quiet smoke calms me.

The politicians and the media will get rid of the smokers from pubs. People weigh up things and know death awaits them whether they smoke or not. They will buy some drink and go home where they expect to be undisturbed. But I know the professional puritans will try and hound them there. Their view of life I detest. I don't wish to be polluted by it.

In London I occasionally have breakfast in a cafe in Kensington High Street. Smokers go there. There are other cafes where you can't smoke. I assume non-smokers go there, but Tom Sutcliffe thinks they should all be the same and those silly smokers should give up immediately and they'd all be better for it. I don't believe it, and people won't behave the way he wants them to.



Sir: Poor old Forest, brutally oppressed by cancer charities (letter, 28 June). But I have asthma, and hence want to trample over the human rights of nicotine-choosing persons in my selfish, intolerant, illiberal quest to keep breathing. Strangely, choice doesn't seem like an issue to me.



MP and men's magazines

Sir: Claire Curtis-Thomas writes that the chairman of WH Smith refused to speak to her about her concerns over how men's lifestyle magazines and the Daily Sport are displayed in our stores (Opinion, 28 June).

W H Smith has been in dialogue with Ms Curtis-Thomas for six months on this topic, and at no time has the chairman refused to speak to her. On one occasion this week his staff had to inform her that he was unavailable, as he was in a meeting when she called.

We take all feedback about our business seriously and we have taken steps to address these concerns.



Two nations

Sir: Many thanks for the two-page article on the rich in the UK and how they are getting richer (27 June). To complete the picture of Tony Blair's socialist dream, can we now have a two-page article on the poor, and us pensioners, and how they and we are getting poorer?



Mysterious power

Sir: It is reported that a certain Mr Murdoch has voiced his support for the Conservative Party. That same Mr Murdoch has also given some sort of an instruction to Gordon Brown not to call an immediate election should the latter become the Prime Minister. Many of those aspiring to British citizenship and taking courses in governmental theory may be puzzled as to who Mr Murdoch is, and the exact nature of the apparently important position he holds in our constitutional democracy. Most of all they may be wondering who elected him.



Why men blog

Sir: Mary Dejevsky observes that women do not write blogs (29 June). One observation made by psychologists is that women have more highly developed social skills, for reasons no one seems to understand. It may be that men blog not because they have more time, but because they deal so much less well with actual face-to-face communication in the physical presence of other members of their species.



Trains from Germany

Sir: Steve Richards comments (27 June) on Germany and its well-maintained public services. I was reading this as my grotty train arrived into Liverpool Street Station 15 minutes late (again) and I thought, "Is it really so much to ask to have clean, inexpensive, efficient trains?" Letters to my local Train Operating Company are generally met with indifference and disdain. No wonder we all want 4x4s.



Modest proposal

Sir: Pro-abortionists (letters; 22, 28, 30 June) , particularly those who advocate terminating children capable of survival outside the womb, are quite correct. Women should have the right to choose to abort their unborn babies on the very reasonable grounds that these may turn out to be an inconvenience. May I also recommend slaughtering all pensioners whenever proved to be a nuisance? When you have a good idea it's a shame not to follow it through.