I read with interest the opinion piece by Ged Bailes ("Some fears cannot be overcome", 2 March) relating to whether the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, has grounds for a finite end to his life sentence.
As chairman of the staff association representing 140,000 police officers across England and Wales, I know that police officers are accustomed to seeing the nastier side of society, but we too are shocked when someone commits a string of hideous and grisly murders, as was the case with Peter Sutcliffe. I was sympathetic to Ged Bailes when he said that there are some offences so extreme that the perpetrator should never be released, on the grounds of public safety; but my sympathy waned with his suggestion that Sutcliffe's paranoid schizophrenic condition might be managed, thereby giving the green light to release him back into society.
I'm no medical expert, but whether his condition is manageable or not is immaterial. What message would the criminal justice system be sending to Sutcliffe's victims and wider society if we so readily release a serial killer?
Our criminal justice system must put the victims at its heart. Sutcliffe is a cold-hearted, calculated killer and, for the safety of the public, must spend the rest of his days in prison.
Chairman, The Police Federation of England and Wales, Leatherhead, Surrey
Ashcroft avoids tax and aids Tories
I just don't believe it. We haven't quite recovered from the mismanagement of our banks; the MPs' expenses scandal is still fresh in our minds; and now a revelation that Lord Ashcroft avoids paying tax in this country, and so money that might legitimately go to the common fund of the Exchequer can instead go to funding a political party.
The millions of which we are all being deprived are going to support Conservative candidates in marginal seats in order to effect a change of government. In simple terms, we are all funding the Conservative Party.
Another question you might have asked about Ashcroft ("The unanswered questions that Ashcroft has yet to address", 2 March) is "What's in it for most people in Belize?" I bet they don't see much in the way of tax either. There are only 11 doctors and nurses per 10,000 people, and the level of availability of hospital beds is 72nd in the world. Less than half of Belizians have access to adequate sanitation and only 61 per cent of boys are in secondary education.
It is a lovely country to visit with stunning wildlife, hospitable people and lovely seas. I had a memorable visit, but as a member of the Lords was anxious not to be associated with someone over whom so many questions hang.
(Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer), House of Lords
The sad thing about Lord Ashcroft and his tax status is that he is wealthy enough to be able to pay UK taxes and still have a lot more than the income of hundreds of us ordinary taxpayers put together. But perhaps he would have to fund the Tories using his own money then, instead of ours.
In your list of "buzzwords" from Cameron's keynote speech (1 March) the word "public" does not appear, and I suspect that omission says a lot about the Tories. Anyone with a fading memory of how previous Tory governments mistreated public-sector workers and services, should take note.
Bruce Anderson (1 March) says: "The Conservatives' leader has an electricity which his rivals cannot match." Pity Cameron seems to have blown all his fuses.
'Workers' with no work ethic
David Whitaker (letter, 27 February) thinks that British workers deserve better wages for the same job than anyone else. In this global economy, that no longer works.
He says that immigrant workers have different expectations. This was certainly borne out by the 26-year-old "local" in the television programme who couldn't be bothered to get out of bed to earn a living. I have been fortunate enough to meet a lot of workers from abroad and their work ethic puts many local workers to shame.
This work ethic is not particular to eastern Europe, where most of our workers come from. I was born and raised in Africa and have lived in Asia, and everywhere the work ethic is simple. You do your best in the job and the life you are lucky to have, and your rewards are in direct correlation to that.
So thank you to the BBC for showing the reality of these people who "come over here taking our jobs".
Hunston, West Sussex
The debate about wages for British workers and immigrants arises because employers are able to pay what they can get away with, using the argument of market forces.
It is interesting to compare Britain with Australia, where for many years the Award Wage system has been in force. This specifies the minimum wage and overtime rates for each job. Employers cannot compete by cutting wages, and workers can afford a modest mortgage, car and holiday. The rates are negotiated to reflect the training, responsibility, and arduousness of the job, and apply across each state. An employer is free to pay more, and some do for positions that are hard to fill.
No one can live or provide for a family on the minimum wage here, a fact acknowledged by the existence of income support, which is really a subsidy to employers.
Tests homeopathy needs to pass
Shirley Browning (letters, 22 February) has observed in individual cases that administration of homeopathic remedies has preceded recovery from various ailments, but that does not prove that the recovery was caused by the remedy.
The ability to prove that an intervention has a positive effect on the people being treated is at the root of the principle of evidence-based medicine, which is generally accepted as the best and fairest way to use limited NHS resources.
In order to prove this link it is usually necessary to undertake the same intervention in multiple people to rule out the element of chance or a confounding factor influencing the outcome. All new drugs that come to the market will have to go through this process to obtain approval for use in the UK.
As to the placebo effect in children and animals, the perception of effect is that of the person administering the treatment who presumably expects to see positive results. So is a positive placebo effect really so strange?
Patrick Wilson (Registered Pharmacist)
Having spent a lifetime in university research, I am only too aware of the transient nature of scientific knowledge, with the accepted truth of one era being overturned in the next.
Hospitals do not exist for the benefit of politicians or scientists. They are there to improve the health of their patients. So, before any decision is taken about the funding of homeopathic hospitals, we need evidence on how effective they are from the patient's point of view. Not evidence of how homeopathy works, that can come later, but whether homeopathic hospitals work.
We simply need the NHS to carry out a survey of the comparative success rates of homeopathic and conventional hospitals in terms of patient satisfaction, patient outcomes, hospital-acquired infections, non-fatal side-effects from prescription errors, and deaths from hospital mistakes.
We can then stop arguing about dilutions and the placebo effect, and start judging hospitals by the only thing that matters – results.
Children's access to sexual images
Dr Linda Papadopoulos (report, 26 February) has undoubtedly hit on an important cultural/ethical dilemma: the negative effects, particularly on children, of the mass pornification and sexualisation of our culture.
But her well-meaning recommendations demonstrate a profound naivety. As a teacher, I have experience of the way in which "youngsters" are amazingly adept in accessing and disseminating all kinds of celebrity images, many of them of an explicitly sexual nature.
Dr Papadopoulos's suggestions of tinkering with the television watershed, or re-arranging adult material in newsagents out of children's eye-line, belong to another age. Many young people skilfully deploy their mobiles, with internet links, to download explicit material, and many are incomparably more knowledgeable and computer-literate than most parents or teachers.
Many young people are confused: on the one hand they are warned against the effects of irresponsible sex, drugs etc; on the other they are swamped with celebrity material which glamorises sexual promiscuity, alcohol and narcotic culture.
When shops go out of business
You quote Richard Hyman of Deloitte accountants, who misunderstands the way in which Office for National Statistics retail sales estimates are produced and, in particular, our treatment of defunct businesses or those in administration ("Retail sales plummet in January", 20 February).
ONS uses actual returns of turnover from around 5,000 businesses covering approximately 95 per cent of the retail sector. Every month around 900 large businesses are completely enumerated and around 4,100 businesses which employ up to 99 people are sampled.
The treatment of businesses in administration is addressed through regular updating and profiling of businesses through a central business register, and is as up-to-date as possible. If a business does die and that activity is picked up by other businesses, the total retail activity is still captured, so there is no boosting of sales at an aggregate level. It is important to have a large broadly based and comprehensive representation across the whole of the retail sector.
The issue of defunct retailers would impact on estimation methods which use like-for-like panel-type comparisons, but these are not used by ONS for the retail estimates.
Chief Economist, Office for National Statistics, London EC1
Tesco does sell food
Joan Smith (2 March) loathes Tesco, and I'm not their No 1 fan; but I shop there every week and my family eats no microwaved or pre-prepared food. They do actually sell vegetables and meat and herbs and Parmesan cheese, you know; although the stuff isn't flown in from Italy that morning or slaughtered in the car park before being slapped on the shelves still oozing blood.
Ian Burrell exaggerates BBC4's commitment to "intelligent television" ("Watch and learn", 18 February). Among the quality programmes, there is some rather questionable padding, such as the recent documentary on Skippy: Australia's First Superstar, the excessive coverage of Latin American music and the Elvis Presley anniversary binge. It is a pity that BBC4 feels it has to leaven its programme menu with material that would be better located on BBC2, a channel that lost its way years ago.
Professor David Head
So the Parkinson's Disease Society is to be renamed "Parkinson's UK" (letters, 27 February). Sounds like a study of how Parkinson's Law operates in the UK. Yet another organisation succumbs to the temptation to adopt a stupid name that doesn't say clearly and unequivocally what it stands for. Now, "Scope", which charity is that? Let me look it up. And what about "Relate"?
I am sorry Alice Jones had difficulty hearing Waiting For Godot (25 February). Any voice should be audible in the largest theatre, as long as the actor makes sure that he can hear the echo "bouncing back" (an elementary exercise). It may be that with years of experience (or eminence) an actor may forget to listen out for this; one of my teachers at Rada assured us that he once exhorted John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson to "speak up" at a live performance.
The list of famous Belgians (26 February) omits the name of Egide Walschaerts (1820-1891), the inventor of the well known and very widely used valve gear fitted to railway steam locomotives such as, for example, the latest UK steam locomotive, Tornado.