Letters: Undersea heritage

Treasure hunters and archaeologists at odds over undersea heritage
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The Independent Online

Sir: Rex Cowan (Letters, 24 June) gives a misleading account of current issues for conserving our underwater cultural heritage. The wording of Valletta and other heritage conventions that the UK has ratified is just as all-embracing as Unesco's Underwater Convention: they all create a set of principles and framework for international collaboration.

Practical implementation depends on what the initial ratifying states agree; but in declining to ratify, the UK Government will not have a say – although ministers have announced that Britain will abide by an annexe detailing how the underwater cultural heritage should be conserved. We still await a policy statement on how, in the absence of ratification, the UK will implement this commitment.

Mr Cowan is correct that other means of safeguarding the underwater cultural heritage are available. The Government's Heritage and Maritime Bills will help in UK territorial waters, and internationally various multilateral agreements and cases of returning looted artefacts illustrate other mechanisms. As an NGO, the Nautical Archaeology Society has a respected training programme that promotes responsible attitudes to maritime heritage.

More could be done. But in claiming that archaeologists are forsaking a golden opportunity for commercial collaboration to explore the maritime heritage as compared with terrestrial, Mr Cowan fails to recognise a crucial distinction in motivation. Both on land and at sea archaeological companies compete for projects initiated and funded by commercial development which often do good archaeology. They are commoner on land because development pressure is stronger, but can Mr Cowan name one terrestrial example where such collaboration has the primary objective of recovering antiquities for sale? Or any conducted with such secrecy as commercial maritime treasure hunting?

At sea, the potential for commercial treasure hunting is more serious than on land because much bigger losses of hitherto irrecoverable bullion are historically identifiable. Like gold-mining, archaeologists may mitigate the impact of treasure hunting, but at least gold mining is not pretending to be archaeology or targeting the most valuable cultural heritage for secretive exploitation and sale.

George Lambrick MA FSA MIFA

Chair, Nautical Archaeology Society, portsmouth

Loss of liberties under New Labour

Sir: Thomas Sutcliffe ("What's wrong if these cameras stop crime?", 24 June) seeks to distinguish between a police state and a well-policed state. May I suggest two words that define the difference? They are: "due process". That means an independent judiciary whose decisions are respected by the executive.

As part of the justification for the botched abolition of the role of Lord Chancellor, it was claimed that the separation of judicial, executive and legislative functions would be strengthened. In practice, what we have seen under New Labour is the steady erosion of that separation.

Asbos and a variety of other orders bring civil standards of proof into criminal matters. A wide variety of bodies are empowered to impose civil charges without due process. The Revenue and Companies House can impose penalties for late submissions. The various regulators now interpret the law, monitor compliance, detect infringements and then impose "fines".

The police can offer fixed-penalty notices for a wide variety of offences including dishonesty and violence. Working with the CPS, they can offer "conditional cautions" which involve a significant and discretionary element of punishment.

Local authorities can impose fixed-penalty notices for the infringement of by-laws, bringing the spectre of uniformed bin wardens patrolling our streets issuing fines. The powers of these authorities to make rules, fine arbitrarily for their infringement and retain the proceeds is another recent development.

There are many other examples – the DNA database, the ID card scheme, the Regulatory Reform Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act – that are all significant erosions of civil liberty under the law.

Sutcliffe's superficial analysis only helps to conceal the serious loss to our liberty that has already taken place.

John Henderson

Alton, Hampshire

Sir: When you come in to the UK you are treated like a smuggler, when you use the banks you are treated like a money launderer, you run a business you are treated like a tax evader (letters, 27 June).

Our pictures are taken when we leave the house. Our DNA is kept on databases though we have committed no crime. Our emails and telephone calls intercepted as a matter of routine by petty bureaucrats.

This eats into our free time, it costs a bomb (that the government tries to pass on to business or us), and is policed by bloated, demoralised departments (who promptly lose the data), and causes psychological pressure.

Thus our government has become a public nuisance, an enabler of identity theft, while leaving the populace criminalised, spied upon and inconvenienced.

Xavier Gallagher

London SE13

Sir: With regard to the latest fulminations regarding council "snooping" in pursuit of "trivial" offences; if the public do not perceive practices such as dog fouling and littering as crimes, they should be legalised immediately.

This would be consistent with the principle that laws should not exist if they are not to be enforced, and councils would be relieved of any further activity in these areas, with commensurate financial savings to the taxpayer.

There may be some added cost to those same councils in having to clean up the extra filth that may follow, but this would have to be seen as a price worth paying to protect the civil liberties of the feckless and moronic whose approbation seems so important to the politicians.

J Knights


Measles can have a deadly aftermath

Sir: Unfortunately, there is an additional and equally serious consequence of the reduced MMR immunisation uptake in the UK, which though rare in countries with a high measles immunisation uptake, carries a significant morbidity and is life-shortening (report, 27 June).

This is the condition called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a well-recognised complication of a natural measles illness that is acquired in children aged three, and particularly, two years of age or younger.

Between two and 10 (occasionally more) years following the original measles infection, the virus, previously dormant within the brain, becomes active and declares itself in a characteristic pattern. This comprises a decline in the child's schoolwork, the development of frequent epileptic seizures, visual impairment and eventually, the loss of all independent, self-help skills. There is no proven cure or treatment for SSPE and affected individuals are typically left with profound neurological and cognitive impairment and many die within five years of the onset. SSPE is a relatively common occurrence, and cause of childhood mortality, in African countries where measles immunisation rates are low.

Having diagnosed only three children with SSPE in almost 18 years as a practicing paediatric neurologist, it is now likely that I will be diagnosing increasing numbers over the next few years.

It is both profoundly disappointing and depressing that the publication of a scientifically unsound study in what is regarded as the paradigm of peer-reviewed medical journals should have had – and will continue to have in the foreseeable future – such dreadful consequences.

Richard E Appleton MA, FRCP, FRCPCH

Consultant Paediatric Neurologist,Royal Liverpool Children's NHS Trust (Alder Hey),liverpool

Smoking is no cause for a rebel

Sir: Terri Judd's claim (June 27) that she smokes "because it is the easiest way to – metaphorically and literally – stick two fingers up at an increasingly smug world" sounded very much like something I might have said 20 years ago when I was a hard-core smoker. But after a while, it becomes a little hard to figure how hurting yourself while forking over your hard-earned money to giant multinational corporations for products that kill one out of two long-time users is really an act of resistance.

As a researcher who has spent more than a decade studying the tobacco industry, I now know that even that nihilistic viewpoint is an industry marketing creation, exploited to attract rebellious adolescents. Too many fine journalists have gone up in smoke at early ages for the sake of tobacco-industry profits. I hope Terri Judd won't be among them.

Ruth E Malone

London NW3

Don't blame Brown for all Labour's woes

Sir: Despite the media's obsession with personalities – in this case Brown's – there are other reasons for New Labour's difficulties (27 June).

The direction that New Labour has taken the broader party is a problem, as is borne out by the figures. Since 1997, Labour has lost more than half its 400,000 membership. Between 1997 and 2005, New Labour's vote declined by approximately 4.5 million. Currently nearly a third of Labour's core support is on electoral strike – waiting to get back the party from the New Labour entryists who have seized control of it.

The second problem is the economy. Contrary to popular myth, New Labour inherited a buckling consumer economy. The historical method of dealing with this – favoured by, among others, Roosevelt, Henry Ford and every Labour government since the war – is to use redistributive polices to increase the money supply.

Brown instead used interest rates to stimulate consumer borrowing, thereby using those on low or middle incomes to finance the continued economic superiority of the very rich and the corporate sector.

Gavin Lewis


Sir: The reason for all Labour's woes can be summed up by the attitude of Bill Rammell MP, the little-known Minister of State at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

When speaking recently at Leeds University, he was asked why he had once said the following about the invasion of Iraq: "We were right to take military action because of Saddam's failure to comply with [UN resolution] 1441 and in the longer run failure to live up to that challenge would have led to ever greater recruitment ability on the part of al-Qa'ida".

His response (even after all this time) was so typically unrepentant and unapologetic. It is this arrogance of "New Labour" that has lost it so much of its core support. The stubborn failure of those MPs, who once voted for this disastrous war, to at least say "we were wrong, you were right and we now apologise" means that they will never regain the trust of the British people.

Des McLernon


Sir: The press is quick to trumpet the latest opinion polls giving the Tories big leads over Labour, but is less quick to examine what it is the Tories stand for and what they would do once in government.

As it stands, the Tories only seem to have one confirmed policy pledge – to re-legalise the chasing to exhaustion and vicious killing of British wildlife with packs of dogs, in the name of "sport".

Chris Gale


Do men ever wash up?

Sir: Browsing through the leaflet enclosed with a packet of cheerful yellow Marigold rubber gloves, I note that almost all their range, including the "Kitchen", "Bathroom" and "Catering" styles, are available in sizes suitable for women's hands. The only style which goes up to male-sized paws is the "Outdoor/Hobby". Do the Marigold people know something definitive about the division of household chores?

Jane Jakeman


Availability of the Pill

Sir: Your leading article (24 June) was deficient in fact-checking. In 1929 in Exeter what is now the Margaret Jackson Centre was established by the effort of women desiring contraception. When the contraceptive pill was introduced, it was provided there. For longer than my professional career the Pill has been available from family-planning centres and other non-GP outlets. The "morning after pill" has been available from A&E departments for as long as I have been in practice. Not much of a monopoly. I'd favour it being sold in supermarkets rather than yet more groups of people playing doctors.

Dr Adrian Midgley


Christian principles

Sir: Has it occurred to David Owen (Letters, 29 June) that perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury has indeed spent his metaphorical 40 days in the wilderness and has reached the conclusion that what his Church – and the world – needs is an institution that embodies the immortal Christian principle of unconditional compassion rather than the small-minded judgementalism and obsession with Old Testament cultural bias with which too many of his flock seem to be infected?

Manda Scott

Abcott, Shropshire

Casual sex

Sir: You report that "Men like casual sex more than women" (26 June). There are lots of potential reasons for the correlation between gender and feelings following a one-night stand. Women who enjoy sex, casual or not, are far more likely to be derided as slags/sluts while men are celebrated as studs. The primary reasons for the positive/negative feelings split are thus far more likely to be cultural. Headlines and arguably even research of the type described only reveals and unhelpfully reinforces cultural norms which are particularly hard on women.

Jennifer Hutton


Safety checks

Sir: Formalised preparation as encapsulated by checklists do improve safety (front page, 25 June). Though I've worked in 13 NHS hospitals and nine A&E departments in England, it is only in my current job with an air ambulance that I have experienced checklists. The direct, immediate and constant interface between aviation and medicine has, I feel, improved the performance and safety of the medicine practiced.

Mr Naeem Toosy

Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance oxshott, Surrey