Letters: Vital UK freedoms are under attack

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The Independent Online

Sir: We, the undersigned, have all been arrested under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) for taking part in "unauthorised" demonstrations within the new anti-protest zone around Parliament.

Yesterday, one of us, Maya Evans, become the first person to be convicted of this new offence (report, 8 December). Her "crime" was to have taken part in a remembrance ceremony for the more than 100,000 people who have died from war-related causes during the occupation of Iraq and not to have given the police the opportunity to set stringent conditions on the event.

Under SOCPA anyone wishing to demonstrate within a Designated Area of up to 1km from Parliament Square must apply to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner at least six days in advance (or, if not "reasonably practicable", 24 hours in advance). Permission must be granted but the Commissioner can impose draconian conditions on the protest including: when and where it can take place; how long it can last; how many people can attend; how much noise can be made; and the number and size of banners and placards used. In other words, it is no longer possible to have meaningful demonstrations near Parliament - only to take part in ones that are, in effect, organised by the police.

During a speech at the George Bush Snr Presidential Library in April 2002, Tony Blair stated that when "he pass[ed] protestors every day at Downing Street, and believe me, you name it, they protest against it, I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That's called freedom". With yesterday's conviction - and several of us facing trials in January - it is precisely this freedom that is under attack.

We demand that this vital democratic freedom be upheld and this new anti-protest law repealed.



Sir: Your front page posturing on behalf of people who have broken the law is abominable.

Miss Evans, if she had had her "protest" a little further away from where she decided to flaunt the law of the land, would not have been arrested, or needed the attention of 14-plus police officers who could have been doing something more meaningful. Guilty.

Mr Barker, although I sympathise with him, has also simply chosen to break the law to make a point. Guilty.

Mr Kendall-Smith is the most pathetic law-breaker of all. If you join the armed forces you may have to serve anywhere in the world. If he couldn't agree with those terms, then he shouldn't have joined. What he can't do is simply refuse to obey orders because he doesn't agree with them. You cannot run an army on the grounds of personal likes and dislikes. Guilty.



Sir: Of the three cases highlighted on your front page (8 December) one has the potential to set an appalling precedent. It is totally unacceptable for a serving officer in a volunteer army to refuse to serve in a theatre of war on moral or any other grounds. If this officer's opinions are upheld then future conflicts will see orders being selectively obeyed across the ranks and the integrity and structure of army will collapse. With the burgeoning threats to global peace, this is not the time to allow liberal qualms in our security forces.



Sir: Your front page suggests that having fought off the Militant Tendency Neil Kinnock has allowed, perhaps by the back door, for the Dictatorial Tendency to take over the Labour Party.



Scandalous deaths of women in prison

Sir: Baroness Hale of Richmond, in delivering the Longford Lecture, is absolutely right to highlight the iniquity whereby both courts and the prison system discriminate against females ("Too many women are jailed, says top judge", 5 December 2005).

Lady Hale, the only female law lord, denounces the "very unequal treatment" faced by women and girls in a "male-ordered world". Britain imprisons more women than ever in the country's history, and there continues to be widespread concern about the suffering and deaths of women prisoners.

When Labour took office in 1997, 2,629 women were imprisoned. About 4,600 women are currently locked up, yet there has been no equivalent rise in the number of women committing offences, or of women committing more serious offences.

Your report refers to Prisons Ombudsman Stephen Shaw, who conducted an investigation at Styal Prison in 2003. Although six women died at HMP Styal in the 12 months ending August 2003, Mr Shaw was asked to investigate the sixth death only (Julie Bernadette Walsh, who died in August 2003), a somewhat narrow remit. He was also asked to establish whether there were any similarities between Ms Walsh's case and the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the other five women, despite having investigated one death only.

Mr Shaw's report, handed to the Home Office in October 2003, is at best an out-of-date document, and of limited value because it did not take into account the jury findings at the six inquests, or the coroner's recommendations.

I write as the grieving mother of Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, 18, the third woman to die in the sequence of six self-inflicted deaths at Styal Prison. It is important to add that the juries at the six inquests did not return "suicide" verdicts.

Since my daughter's death in January 2003, a further 29 women have died in women's prisons in England (apparently self-inflicted deaths). The Home Secretary must take urgent action to end this scandal.



Why should Britain pay for EU projects?

Sir: Peter Valentine expects that we will indirectly benefit from infrastructure improvements in eastern European countries (letter, 6 December).

That may or may not be true. But in either case there is no reason why those improvements should be financed with money extracted from British taxpayers, or why that money should be channelled through Brussels, where some of it will be wasted or even stolen.

The world is awash with private money looking for suitable destinations for foreign direct investment and, like the British government, the governments of those countries have access to the capital markets if they wish to borrow money to engage in public works.

Indeed, given that Gordon Brown is now running a budget deficit, every pound which he provides to the European Union is automatically another pound added to the British national debt.



No mourning for the Routemaster, symbol of discrimination

Sir: Nostalgia is so very much in the eye of the beholder ("Easy riders ... the final Routemasters trundle into retirement", 5 December). I understand that strange feeling of longing for times gone past, and how potent are the symbols that evoke the fading hinterland of our childhood and adolescent experiences. In the same way that for Suggs the Routemaster bus represents memories, so it does for me.

However, these ageing vehicles have never been iconic for me as a Londoner who happens also to be a wheelchair user. As I was growing up, they symbolised exclusion; my memories are of denial and discrimination. As a young kid I fell on a Routemaster bus, grazing my knees. It was one of the last things I did when I could still walk and it was the last time I travelled on a bus in London until recently.

After almost 40 years of exclusion, now I find myself liberated. The fact is that until recently a transport apartheid has existed. Who would now argue that there should not be women's toilets in pubs, as was a London tradition not so long ago. Would anybody advocate signs saying "no black people here"? They were also part of a London landscape of the past. We need to understand that this current gentle nostalgia for this vehicle is a nostalgia for inequality. In a modern, 21st-century city the concept of a transport system only designed for young, fit, urban surfers is a strange one. Nostalgia is no way to run a bus system.



Sir: A little-lauded advantage of the Routemaster bus is its gentle acceleration. The modern bus has much greater acceleration than necessary, and you need to be super-fit to travel on it. It is driven in such a way as to exclude most of those for whom Brussels has decreed it to be designed. You might be alright in a wheelchair, but the mobile semi-disabled, infirm, and just plain old, haven't got a chance at all.



The selling of sex requires regulation

Sir: The sickness of prostitution cannot be cured but might possibly be "managed" (letters, 3 December). Prostitution is the oldest trade on earth and demand is growing. As much as I am against it, I see only one way of making it less dangerous to sex workers, to their clients and the clients' families - regulation.

Like selling tobacco and alcohol, selling sex should be regulated: brothels licensed and inspected by police and health and safety inspectors; proceeds taxed; workers covered by the health service and regularly tested for sexually transmitted diseases; condoms mandatory, etc. Only then would trafficking of unsuspecting, vulnerable girls by criminal gangs and profiting by pimps exploiting their ignorance and helplessness, have no ground to thrive.



Sir: Your correspondent is either disingenuous or trapped in a historic male timewarp if he believes in equal rights for men and women to buy and sell sex when, both historically and now, this is the result of a contemptible economic imbalance which makes it much more lucrative for a woman to sell sex to men than to be a teacher, a nurse or a shelf-stacker.

The dire platitude that "there has always been prostitution" is on a par with former arguments that little boys have always gone up chimneys or that we've always hanged, drawn and quartered criminals in public. Economic, social, and cultural pressures which have, and do, force women to sell sex for survival should have been conquered long ago. Defending the status quo on women, sex, prostitution and pornography is generally the hallmark of brain-dead males.



This goddess is green in name only

Sir: I really, honestly tried not to get worked up about Julia Stephenson's piece of 5 December, but in the end I had to give in. As far as I can ascertain, her recent itinerary has been as follows: fly to Japan to visit Buddhist retreat; fly to Thailand to visit "eco-spa" and reflect on the experience; write a column called "The Green Goddess"; fly home to fight "rampant consumerism" at Peter Jones.

No amount of prattling on about worms, compost and solar panels should detract from the fact that she has flown halfway around the world to indulge in a little transcendental meditation and a facial. I am sure that Ms Stephenson has many qualities, and that there is an abundance of adjectives with which she can legitimately prefix her deification. "Green", however, most definitely isn't one of them.



Let's be civil

Sir: Please get it right. The new civil partnership arrangements are not marriages. In your report (6 December) you relentlessly refer to "marriage", yet the piece below, by a gay couple, rightly pointed out that they were registering a civil partnership. It is clear that marriage is not what was intended, and in fact many gay couples, including my partner and myself, have no desire to ape heterosexual mores. What gay people wanted, and have achieved, is equality before the law. Let's not sensationalise matters needlessly by referring to "marriages".



An ordinary Tory

Sir: As an ordinary Conservative Party member, who went to a comprehensive school and has always worked for a living, I find it insulting to read suggestions (letters, 7 December) that we "represent privilege and power". It is a fundamental Conservative principle that individual citizens should be as free as possible. It is a fundamental Labour principle that citizens should be subordinated to the state. This basic truth should not be allowed to be concealed by malice or class hatred, as poisonous in its own way as race hatred.



Love thy neighbour

Sir: Having never known the Astors personally I can't speak to the claim that Nancy Astor "harangued" Michael Davie on Christian Science in the 1950s (Obituaries, 8 December). However, I can assure readers that Christian Scientists, as a rule, find that loving their neighbour as themselves, as Jesus suggested is a far more effective approach to convincing others of the merits of Mary Baker Eddy's very spiritual approach to Christianity.



Disraeli and Blair

Sir: Another reading of Disraeli's role in the expansion of the franchise (Johann Hari, 8 December) is that it was less an act of principle, than a pragmatic decision fuelled by the desire to cling to power, in spite of the opposition of large sections of his own party. In that respect, perhaps Tony Blair has as much in common with Disraeli as David Cameron.



Dubai misconceptions

Sir: I was interested to read that Dubai has secretly become the "capital of the UAE" ("Brent Cross in the sand", 8 December). "No alcohol" is listed as the downside to Dubai. Do we really all drink tea in the ex-pat pubs and bars found all over the city?



Oh no! Not the Nobel

Sir: The Nobel Prize for Literature is as notable for those who haven't received it as for those who have: with J M Synge and Arthur Miller in the former camp and John Galsworthy and Pearl S Buck in the latter. When Beckett received it his wife commented, "Quelle catastrophe, tu as gagné".