London's Olympics, Terrorism Bill and others

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London's turn for the Olympics will come - but not yet

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London's turn for the Olympics will come - but not yet

Sir: James Lawton is so right ("London bid should win medal for dishonesty", 19 February). The Olympic bid is papering over huge cracks. It is a great shame that those who are against the bid are accused of being unpatriotic. I am one who, like James, would dearly love to see the Games held here, but at the right time, when we are ready for it, and when it is our turn.

There will be little doubt that the British bid will be technically better than the others. The same was said of the doomed football and rugby World Cup bids, when, as now, we bid against our neighbours. We lost the rugby bid to the French by 18 votes to 3, not because our bid was so inferior, but because most people wanted France to have it.

It will be the same with the Olympics. It is the French turn. Not since 1924 has the country of De Coubertin held the games. Virtually everything is in place. The Stade de France hosted the most successful ever World Athletics Championships in 2003. We don't even have a decent athletics stadium. How did we allow a major new international stadium to be built at Wembley without the capability also for athletics? The Stade de France, when configured for rugby or football, has all the atmosphere of a football ground. When set for athletics it is equally impressive. And the metro runs smoothly and frequently from the centre of Paris almost to the gates of the stadium.

It is time to get real. We need to support sport as they do in France, where every small town has a local authority/government funded stade municipale. We should invest already in some of the facilities we need for an Olympics, not wait until we win the bid before we start building.

Better to have talked with the French and offered some time ago to stand down, recognising it was their go, and to quietly elicit their support for our bid for the Games eight years later, when all we need to stage a great Games might already be in place.

I obviously hope we win, but what will happen to all the plans when the French are announced as winners?

Director of Sport, University of Bristol

Imprisoned by the fear of terrorism

Sir: The Prevention of Terrorism Bill may indeed result in a reduction in terrorism, but at what price? If we allow fear of what may happen to rule us, then we are in a prison of our own making that is far more secure than Belmarsh. What difference is there between a terrorist scaring us into submission with the threat of violence and a government scaring us into submission with the threat of terrorism?

The practice of internment without trial, which took place between 1971 and 1975, was proposed by Unionist politicians as the solution to the security situation in Northern Ireland. It led to very high levels of violence and to increased support for the IRA.


Sir: Government ministers won parliamentary support for the invasion of Iraq on the basis of secret "intelligence" too sensitive for us to share. As we all know, the "intelligence" turned out to be worse than useless.

Now the same ministers want to trample civil liberties and imprison innocent people in their homes on the basis, once again, of secret "intelligence". Much of this appears to be be elicited through torture, which guarantees that it is, again, worse than useless.

Little wonder the ministers want to keep their important secrets to themselves and circumvent any judicial process that might demonstrate that their victims are not merely technically innocent, because they have not been proven guilty, but also happen to have done nothing wrong.


Sir: The Home Secretary plans to put foreign terror suspects under tight controls to replace the present indefinite jail sentences under which they are held.

When the threat of war loomed in 1939 the Government recalled Parliament on 23 August and an Emergency Powers (Defence) Bill, was passed easily in the Commons by 457 votes to 11. Having no regard for habeas corpus and intended only for use in wartime the Bill authorised the detention of people whose custody "appears expedient". They were held without trial on the sole command of a government minister when war broke out within the fortnight.

The time is not yet ripe for a re- enactment - nor will it ever be right for a non-judicial regulation to be made at the whim of a politician.


Sir: Tony Blair and Charles Clarke are asking Parliament to grant them the power to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law. This government intends to overturn fundamental principles that have existed since Magna Carta. Their justification for this power grab is a nebulous terrorist threat.

Winston Churchill, in a minute on the Mosley family to the Home Secretary, dated 21 November 1943, referred to: "... the great principle of habeas corpus and trial by jury, which are the supreme protection invented by the British people for ordinary individuals against the state. The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him judgement by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian governments."

London N19

Sir: Despite the fact that no one has been killed or injured by terrorist activity in the UK since the IRA ceasefire, Mr Clarke seems to feel that he should have the right to detain us without trial as part of his counter-terrorism strategy. May I suggest an alternative policy area where detention without trial could demonstrably save lives?

Motor vehicle drivers kill around 3,500 citizens each year. We know the registration numbers of the careless drivers who may be responsible for this; they are the ones who cut us up on our roads. If these drivers were subject to house arrest before their reckless driving actually caused any injury, think how many lives could be saved each year!

As the arrested person would not be told what the evidence was against him or her, we could all happily inform the authorities with no fear of any consequences to ourselves.


Special needs

Sir: I was pleased to read the excellent article "Children with special needs also deserve choice" by Ian Birrell (18 February). I am the grandmother of a seven-year-old autistic boy and my daughter and I have spent the last four years fighting a constant battle with East Sussex local education authority to obtain appropriate education for his considerable special needs.

It is devastating to receive a diagnosis of autism and even harder to live with the daily consequences of the disability. The further realisation that you are due for years of struggle comes more slowly as you start to contact the authorities who are charged with meeting the needs of disabled children.

I spent my career in education and my daughter is a teacher. We have both been appalled at the treatment we have received from our LEA. Together with a group of local parents we have set up our own independent special school for autistic children. We have funded this school entirely by our own efforts with the very generous help of the local community and charitable trusts.

Many parents do not have the resources to do what we have done, and I speak daily to desperate families who are struggling to find an education for their children. The inclusion policy is a convenient peg for LEAs to hang cost-cutting on.

My grandson had a year of inclusion in a mainstream school, in which he regressed and became more withdrawn. He is just regaining the lost ground. Appropriate education for children with special needs is a postcode lottery with very few winners.

Crowborough, East Sussex

Sir: My son has severe learning disabilities, so I have followed the debate in your pages about education for disabled children. The challenges for disabled children go beyond schools.

For example, I know how valuable it is for both disabled children and their families to get regular short breaks from each other, whether overnight or for a few days. We parents need to recharge our batteries from what can be a 24-hour-a-day job of care, and, like anyone else, our children often enjoy seeing new environments and meeting new people. However, cuts to the social services budget in my county, Oxfordshire, have seen a massive reduction in the availability of short breaks.

It sometimes feels that disabled children and their families are always first in the firing line, but without this vital support, many will be unable to carry on looking after their children at home. In the long run, surely this is not cost-effective.

Chalgrove, Oxfordshire

Families torn apart

Sir: When the Government is keen to promote foster care as an valuable service to abused and bereaved children, and to help them form new and stable families, why are those families torn apart when the young person attains the age of 18?

I refer to the situation of Blerim Mlloja and his foster carer Mrs Watts ("Happy birthday. We are throwing you out of Britain", 23 February). Our situation is the same: Naz is eighteen in two weeks' time and has lived with us for three years. He witnessed the death of his parents and siblings. If and when he is deported, he will for the second time lose his whole family.

What a travesty of justice and hollow political rhetoric about promoting the rights of children and of family life.

Bognor Regis, West Sussex

FDR at Yalta

Sir: Your reporter Andrew Buncombe should have known better than to present the claims of an FBI psychiatrist about Roosevelt at Yalta in such an uncritical fashion ("Roosevelt was 'mentally impaired' at Yalta", 21 February).

It is not news that FDR was a dying man in February 1945, and Alan Salerian's diagnosis that he suffered from hypoxia may be correct. But the suggestion that because of his illness he failed to "stand up to Stalin" and let the Soviet leader seize Poland and Manchuria is simply a revival of an ancient slander.

There was no way in which the Soviet Union could have been dislodged in 1945 from Poland and Manchuria, short of starting a third world war before the second was finished. Assertions to the contrary were based solely on Republican hatred of Roosevelt and on what Sir Denis Brogan used to call "the illusion of American omnipotence".

To judge from Mr Buncombe's article both fallacies are still active, and actively reinforcing each other. I wish I could say I was surprised.

Research Professor Of History
University of Essex

Royal wedding

Sir: The Guildhall in Windsor High Street is a quite exceptionally fine building, attributed to Sir Christopher Wren, with splendid interiors displaying many royal portraits. It is a perfectly worthy setting for Prince Charles' civil wedding, which is to be followed by a religious service in the magnificence of Windsor Castle.

All the nit-picking over the ceremony is absolutely absurd, when his remarriage will have no effect on the succession: surely he and Mrs Parker Bowles do not intend to have children, which might genuinely complicate matters.

Opinion polls have recorded majority support for the marriage provided Camilla does not become Queen, and no Act of Parliament forces her to assume this title, any more than to call herself Princess of Wales, which she has no intention of doing.

London SW15

School founders

Sir: In response to the Rev John Russell (letter, 21 February), I have no doubt that, had the National Secular Society enjoyed the power and wealth of the Church of England, it would have founded a great many schools.

London E1

Sex scandal

Sir: I found the article on the rape of Central Africa by its colonial power "Belgium confronts its heart of darkness" by Michela Wrong (February 23) fascinating, if horrifying. It was rather marred by her need to mention the sexuality of a minor player in the story, as in "the homosexual diplomat Roger Casement". Casement undoubtedly led a colourful and interesting life, but, since the sex of whomever the vile King Leopold elected to sleep with was not mentioned once, why was this detail necessary?


FA Cup heroes

Sir: Nick Harris informs us ("United at Griffin Park has Bees in dreamland", 22 February) that Brentford "have never progressed beyond the fifth round" of the FA Cup. In that case the year 1989 must have been deleted from the calendar, for that year the Bees played a Cup quarter-final at Liverpool. I was there, and a memorable day out it proved. A mere 16 years later, how surprising to have a top sports writer inform us that it must have been a fantasy.

Hook, Hampshire

Pedestrians beware

Sir: Very nearly full marks to Deborah Ross for her hints in Saturday's Magazine (19 February) about keeping pedestrians in their place (at home). Just one omission, though: the "high-pressure water cannons" she suggests are already in operation. Tyres are designed to squirt water towards the pavement at a useful height. All you need do is drive fast, near the gutter. Bingo!