Letters: The new police state in action at Heathrow

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 21 August, 2013


The detention of David Miranda should surprise no one. It is the logical conclusion of the evolution of anti-terror law in the UK over the past four decades.

This legislation has never really been about stopping terrorism, but policing dissent. The Terrorism Act itself, extending detention under anti-terror law from seven to 14 days came in 2000, a time of peace in Northern Ireland and pre-9/11.

The boundaries of anti-terror law have been pushed and pushed since the introduction of the first Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in 1974, in the midst of the Guildford and Birmingham pub bombings. 

The whole process took on a new life with 9/11. Draconian legislation was passed allowing detention without trial, then the use of control orders. Now 60,000 people a year are being routinely stopped under anti-terror laws.

A police state has been building up in the shadows in this country for decades.

Paul Donovan, London E11


On Radio 4, David Blunkett said of David Miranda’s detainment: “I don’t think we should get hysterical one way or the other, we should get to the facts.”

No, Mr Blunkett, we should get hysterical – hysterical about the facts that we already know: that David Miranda was not a terror suspect even though he was detained under the Terrorism Act and hysterical about knowing that all our e-communications can be spied on by the US and UK secret services.

Ed Snowden was brave enough to expose the mass surveillance being carried on without our knowledge. Equally, if it wasn’t for Glenn Greenwald bringing this to our attention, this unsavoury fact would still be just conspiracy theorists’ rumour.

Journalistic champions for individual freedoms should not be intimidated in this way.

Henry Page, Newhaven, East Sussex


The detention of David Miranda is a direct consequence of the security services repeatedly being allowed to get away with abusing their powers under the Investigatory Powers and Terrorism Acts 2000 and other security legislation, supposedly designed to keep us “safe”

Such legislation is repeatedly used, often unlawfully, by the Home Office, police and security services to infringe civil liberties. What it actually does is fuel growing sympathy for terrorism in communities which feel unfairly targeted by the security services, whether young black men, or Muslims.

Julius Marstrand, Cheltenham


So we gave the Americans the “heads up” did we? I wish Britain would stop poodling the US. It’s embarrassing. It’s like watching your dad being bullied by a traffic warden. 

From the moment Tony Blair started grinning at George Bush like a man looking for a job, Britain’s subservience to American wishes has turned us from an independent ally to a fawning lackey. 

David Gibbs, London SW4

What did David Miranda expect? Surely he knew he was putting himself in danger by transiting through a police state. He ought to thank his lucky stars that the Occupying Power did not whisk him off to its interrogation centre at Gulag Guantanamo. Roll on Scottish independence! I long to live in a free country, rather than a vassal nation.

Peter Martin, Muir of Ord, Highland


A short history of Bongo Bongo Land

The reference to “Bongo Bongo Land” was first made by the late Alan Clark MP, who suggested, when he faced similar criticism to the ones now facing Ukip, that he was referring to the President of Gabon, Omar Bongo.

Bongo was a not too untypical African leader who ruled his country for 42 years, followed by his son, another Bongo, after the customary disputed election. The losers sought refuge abroad.

During the first Bongo term of office this oil-rich but people-poor country saw the President acquire 39 properties in France. The charity Transparency International cites massive corruption in former French colonies, of which Gabon is just one. The opulent life of African leaders and their families cannot be ignored; Mugabe’s wife returning from shopping trips abroad when the population was starving is not an isolated example.

It is excellent that our government has tightened the criteria for aid, but it has yet to apply a full torque wrench to the problem. Many of our European neighbours and the EU itself still send huge sums to the likes of Bongo and allow them to bank their loose change here. European states like Belgium are queuing up to resume business with Zimbabwe. How transparent is the EU aid when its accounts have never passed an audit?

Leslie Freitag, Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Assisted dying with fair warning

I couldn’t agree more with Ruth Hair and Brian Crews (“My mother deserved a better death”, Letters 3 August). We “baby boomers” have campaigned for choice throughout out adult lives, and been  fortunate enough to succeed in almost all areas, so why are our newspapers, politicians and doctors so scared of starting a proper debate about assisted dying for those that choose it?

One reason may be that a change in the law now would affect people possibly already too old and frail to make that decision, and start awkward discussions that most would prefer to avoid.

My answer is to set a date for the future now, say 2025, when assisted death will be legalised, with all necessary safeguards in place. That would give the NHS, medical schools, doctors, lawyers, and, most importantly, individuals and their families ample time to plan and express their preference while of sound mind and body. 

As a healthy 60-year-old, I would feel far happier about moving into old age if I thought there was an easy exit strategy open to me when and if I ever chose to use it.

Jody Bain, Grimsby, Lincolnshire

Ways to save electricity

Alan Mitcham proposes a 12-volt circuit in every home to power “essential” services such as lighting (letter, 7 August). Such 12-volt circuits would necessitate very heavy wires, which would put enormous pressure on the mining industry to extract huge amounts of copper from any place they can. It would make the oil market and fracking look minuscule and create far more pollution.

He is right that we need a way to “split essential electricity from luxury uses” but it doesn’t require any fancy pseudo-technical footwork. Charge everyone a very low rate for the first few KWHs (enough for the lights and a kettle) after which it rises very steeply. Alas, try telling that to the power companies, who, as profit-making business, want to encourage electricity use.

John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire

Rowdy children, vicious adults

I agree with Hazel Burton that discipline is sadly lacking in some children (letter, 20 August). What I don’t understand is how adults think children are going to learn the rules of compromise and empathy for a civilised society.

The children don’t metamorphose at 18 into people who can take turns, tolerate frustration and treat others as they would like to be treated themselves. Maybe some parents think it is someone else’s responsibility. I can imagine how difficult it is to teach some children.

We do need discipline and control over children, or else we end up with adults who show road rage, are noisy neighbours, bully people and are generally obnoxious.  

Linda Dickins, Wimborne, Dorset


Musk’s train and Brunel’s rats

Your recent stories about Elon Musk’s “revolutionary” 800mph train powered by compressed air and vacuum tubes failed to point out that the idea is not all that novel.

Back in the 1840s Isambard Kingdom Brunel experimented with the conversion of part of the South Devon stretch of the Great Western Railway to the same principle. Trains were powered by vacuum-generating pumping stations between Exeter and Newton Abbott.

The trains picked this up by a piston fitted inside a 15-inch diameter leather pipe, which, to  keep the piston motion freed up, was lubricated by applying tallow to the tube lining. Trouble was, the leather seasoned by tallow was irresistible to Devonian rats, and the results of their snacking was that the pipes become totally useless. I hope Mr Musk has checked out the eating habits of Californian rodents, so as to avoid this problem.

David Walsh, Skelton, Cleveland

Naval beards

On the subject of beards. When doing National Service in the Royal Navy in the late 1950s, you couldn’t just grow a beard, you had to have permission. I had to go before the Captain and request permission to stop shaving, and go back in two weeks’ time – when I was given the short answer, “It’s not good enough laddie – shave it off.” I suppose that put me in the bumfluff brigade. However 55 years later I now have what I consider to be a first-class long grey beard.

Chris Else, Maidenhead


Copper danger

So, scientists suggest copper is a causative effect of Alzheimer’s disease. I seem to recall that about 30 years ago, aluminium was deemed responsible. Indeed at the time I suggested to my mother that she change her aluminium saucepans to some of a less “hazardous” material. She didn’t take my advice and eventually succumbed to the disease. I wonder what will be the next metallic element to be mooted as a contributory factor.

John P Sheldon, Holbrook, Derbyshire

Posh London

The alarming figures you quote on cancer death rates (19 August) don’t indicate to me “the stark reality of the north-south divide”: more like the stark reality of the divide between the posh parts of London and everywhere else in Britain.

John Williams, West Wittering, West Sussex

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