Letters: What the police should do

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Sir Ian, we've been telling you for years what the police should do

Sir: Sir Ian Blair says we must say what the police should do (Podium, 17 November). We've been saying it for years.

We want police on the streets deterring and catching criminals, not behind desks or in canteens and in pointless meetings and conferences. We want them turning up to reports of a serious crime within minutes, not days later. We want villains locked up, not released early to murder, wound, rape and steal.

We don't want police hobbled by politically correct bureaucracy and excessive paperwork, nor retiring early on spurious grounds and collecting huge index-linked pensions for not doing the job they are paid for, and we certainly don't want them acting like creeps and cronies of the other Blair and lobbying MPs.

Any chance of this in the near future? Not with the Blairs in charge.



Sir: The recent worries concerning the extent to which the police service may have adopted an increasing political role should come as no surprise to those like myself who have been involved in the criminal justice field for very many years.

In the last two decades we have witnessed the increasing extent to which the police will, from time to time, express their views on the deliberations and verdicts in the courts (most notably in the higher courts).

The role of the police (along with other agencies) is to protect the public and to prevent crime. For the most part they carry out these tasks well, and we are heavily indebted to them. However, it is in my view no part of these duties to express publicly their views on the outcome of verdicts and sentencing. Their task is to gather evidence, marshal it, and along with the Crown Prosecution Service present it to the courts.

Their apparent recent incursion into matters "political" is in danger of eroding the "separation of powers" in this country.



White phosphorus and horrors of war

Sir: It was as a newly commissioned gunner subaltern in 1965 that the horrors of white phosphorus were first brought to my attention.

We all knew it was strictly forbidden by international convention as an anti-personnel weapon. It could only legitimately be used to create smoke-screens. A sergeant, recently transferred from a regiment serving in the Aden Protectorate, told me gleefully how they used to put down WP on dissident tribesmen. I was utterly horrified, having naïvely believed Britain only acted honourably in warfare.

Thereafter I progressively learnt the horrors of political violence, whether carried out by uniformed or un-uniformed fighters, and that the distinction Messrs Bush and Blair like to make about "terrorism" compared with good clean conventional warfare is utterly false. In modern warfare one may normally expect eight civilians to die for every one combatant, currently obscenely airbrushed aside as "collateral" damage. No wonder the US and UK were shy of counting Iraqi war casualties.

Your readers will now know the horrific effect of the use of WP against human beings: first the terror, then the unbelievably painful way of burning to death. I doubt that any of them can be in much doubt that it is a worse way to perish than in a sudden suicide bomber's outrage, awful though that also is. It is long overdue that we, as a society, got real about the unspeakable awfulness of warfare.



Sir: I am a chemist by training and must beg to differ with you in your description of the effects of white phosphorus. To quote your article "Military smokescreen or illegal incendiary weapon?" (17 November): "Is it a chemical weapon? No. White phosphorus has thermal properties which burn by heating everything around it, rather than chemical properties which attack the body's life systems."

This description is very misleading. While it is true that burning white phosphorus has thermal properties, these are by no means its sole effects. White phosphorus is exceeding toxic. It produces severe blistering of the skin and mucous membranes and is a systemic poison, as well. In this respect it is far more poisonous that its more common allotrope, red phosphorus, which is used in match heads.

When white phosphorus burns in air it produces thick, choking clouds of phosphorus pentoxide, a toxic gas which causes severe chemical burns both internally and externally. Upon contact with water, phosphorus pentoxide reacts to produce phosphoric acid, a very corrosive, strong acid, comparable to concentrated sulphuric acid.

I witnessed the ghastly effects of a small exposure to white phosphorus on the skin of a colleague many years ago. To discount white phosphorus's chemical effects is a terrible twisting of the truth. As an American, I deeply regret that this is being used by my government in the prosecution of this war.



Sir: For Downing Street to say that what the US does is their affair is absolutely not true. Legally we are partners in a joint venture in Iraq. Our soldiers protect the main supply line (MSL) from Kuwait; we provided the Black Watch to protect the American southern flank on the assault on Fallujah; we stand, in Blair's terms, "shoulder to shoulder" with the US politically.

If the Americans were to crucify or gas every Iraqi they come across that, unfortunately for this country, would be very much our affair. The fact that they have been burning the flesh off Iraqis to the bone is also our affair. Muslims will regard this as yet another war crime in this despicable war.



Sir: The Americans have weapons which can kill and injure people. Some of these were used, in accordance with relevant treaties and conventions, against enemy fighters. Slow news day, was it?



Sir: How reassuring that the acting Iraqi Human Rights Minister will investigate the use of white phosphorus shells in Fallujah, now officially admitted by the US government.

We can all be confident that an inquiry conducted by a government installed by US military force, and currently sustained in power by a vast occupying US army, will be rigorous in its investigation of those same US forces and prepared to attribute blame where it falls due.

You couldn't make this stuff up!



A generation locked into binge drinking

Sir: Today's binge drinkers were relentlessly weaned on teen-friendly highly potent lurid concoctions half a dozen years ago. They are the alco-pops generation and the drinks industry knew precisely what it was doing when it targeted them.

Binge drinking takes place in mono-cultural bars, pubs and clubs with the narrowest of age demographics. The drinks industry refines its offer to young cash-rich kids and students in most pragmatic ways. They will discount early in the night, discount by volume, only serve spirits in double measures. Advertising is overt. Alcohol is aphrodisiac. Alcohol is funny. Alcohol is sex now.

There are drinks that bridge the gap between alco-pops and grown-up drinks. Advertising for such drinks is evidence that the drinks industry has corralled its young punters and is determined to keep them feral. Binge drinking venues are brutal, loud, relatively cheap and managed in ways that promote a spiral of consumption. No manager on targets is about to encourage moderation.

Grumpy old buggers like me tend to seek out pubs and bars that are tenanted or independently owned and managed. That way we get relative peace. I welcome the overdue relaxing of the licensing laws. That way I get to finish drinks that I've paid for without being told to get home and go to bed. That way I don't have to apologise to visitors from abroad for our arcane drinking-up rituals. However, nothing will temper so-called binge drinking until it is made unprofitable for the corporate drinks industry. They promote it. We hose down the vomit.



Abortion: a parent's right to know

Sir: Doctors who can see nothing wrong with abortion are naturally going to find it hard to understand why some parents would object to their children being part of such issues without their knowledge ("Abortion: parents have a duty to support, not a 'right to know' ", 15 November). However, doctors must put themselves in the position of parents who regard abortion as profoundly wrong.

In most other respects we as a society are very supportive of parents who choose to raise their children on conscience-based principles. Most of us, for example, wouldn't offer steak to a child we knew was from a strictly vegetarian background or pork to a Muslim child.

How would a doctor feel if the Government ruled that their 13- or 14-year-old child was permitted to join a dangerous sports club or a gun club without the parents' knowledge or consent? A happy family is held together by trust, honesty and mutual support, and a law which supports a child's secrecy against his or her parents is surely only contributing towards the further weakening of the modern family.



Bush lectures China on democracy

Sir: In wagging a nannyish finger at the Chinese government ("Bush tells Beijing to model itself on 'free Taiwan' ", 17 November), what is George Bush is trying to achieve? Is he expecting some sort of epiphany in the powers that be ? "Democracy? Gosh, now why didn't we think of that?"

China in its rapid development, social as well as economic, is in a perpetual state of near-crisis. The problems are numerous and there are no quick solutions. Democracy can't simply slot in here like a new battery, and the inertia in the old state bureaucracy is immense. Too radical a leader would be deposed by those who see their power threatened, and yet here is the President of the world's self-imposed police force once again talking about societal change of immense magnitude in the world's most populous nation as if it were nothing more than the flick of a light switch.

I believe in Hu's good intentions, but he must move at a modest pace and it's about time Bush started encouraging Hu instead of lecturing him. To indulge in such rhetoric against the Chinese government from Japanese soil - of all places - before even meeting with Hu and discussing the issues with him is not merely hubristic, it is self-defeating. Any advances that Hu may have been considering for the near future will now be shelved lest it be seen by the old guard, the Chinese people and others that China has been hectored into change by the President of the United States.



Sir: Professor MacFarlane's letter (12 November) regarding freedom in China makes no reference to the fact that apparent new freedoms do not apply to any group that happens to fall out of favour with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Such groups include some Christian churches and Falun Gong, a traditional meditative practice based on principles of truth, compassion and tolerance.

Since 1999, around 70 million practitioners of Falun Gong have lost the fundamental right to freedom of belief. There is documented evidence that at least 2,780 have been tortured to death. Thousands remain incarcerated in "re-education" camps where the use of torture and brainwashing is systematic.

Evidence of such repression has been presented by the US State Department, human-rights groups and recently defected CCP officials. It is also worth noting that the CCP is highly skilled at deception and cover up - remember how it handled the Sars outbreak! This may explain why many Chinese, and perhaps Professor MacFarlane, seem to be unaware of some of the real horrors taking place behind China's glossy new surface image.



Victim of drugs

Sir: Thank you for your piece on the imploding situation in Afghanistan (15 November), but no mention of its position as number one heroin producer - do you think it possible that these two are unconnected?



Belief and evidence

Sir: John Hall (letter, 15 November) defines religious belief as "held with no verifiable evidence". I can't find this in my dictionary or in the work of any theologian. Does he have any verifiable evidence that this is how religions see their own beliefs, or has he just made up his own irrational definition of a blind faith? According to Mr Hall, "Some insist that the only worthwhile religious belief is one which is backed up by no physical evidence at all." Some do - they call themselves atheists.



Off the air

Sir: As someone who lives in an area that can receive neither Freeview or digital radio I am getting sick and tired of seeing adverts on the BBC for channels I cannot get. Hasn't the time come to offer a reduction in the licence fee to those households that cannot receive these channels? It seems very unfair that we are paying the full fee for half the service.



Faith in the railways

Sir: As well as faith-based education and hospitals (Letters, 17 November), will the Prime Minister next try faith-based railways? They would have to be "inclusive", although, Catholics might prefer to travel by Virgin Trains. Multi-faith services could be held on Sunday trains, thus allowing churches to claim higher attendance figures. And when all else fails to get the system moving, the power of prayer might be put to the test. Since it already requires a considerable act of faith to trust one's journey to the present rail system, it's surely worth a shot.



Blair's nemesis

Sir: It is now time for a stalking-horse candidate to run against Tony Blair, and I have the perfect choice of name to go forward: Robin Cook. To be defeated by the dead anti-Iraq invasion politician, whose funeral Blair couldn't be bothered to attend, would be a fitting end to a career of spin and lies. Then there could be a real ballot, with living candidates, and we could all "move on".