Modern architecture, Deaths in custody and others

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The Independent Online

Try living with modern architecture, you might like it

Sir: Marc Hurstfield (letter, 9 August) does not seem to realise that "most modern buildings are ugly" is merely his opinion. There is a large unsatisfied market for houses of "modern" design. And if he were my age he'd know that educated people once despised Victorian buildings as much as he despises modern ones.

Mankind develops by trying new things; without experiment nothing would progress. Inevitably there are failures, but if all new buildings are pastiches, made to an old pattern but necessarily using modern materials which do not age in the same way, building will stagnate and no new beauty will be created.

I am fortunate enough to live in an exceptionally beautiful house of unparalleled comfort and serenity. Two years old and uncompromisingly "modern", it was designed by my architect husband to suit our specific needs. Our efforts were largely supported by our neighbours (somewhat to our surprise - this is, after all, Tunbridge Wells) but the planners thought as Mr Hurstfield does so we achieved the house of our dreams only after a long, hard fight. Now, while undoubtedly there are Hurstfields about who, seeing its large windows, white walls and flat roof, dismiss the house out of hand, we have been pleased by the number and variety of people who have admired it. Not only our friends, who might be expected to have similar tastes, but the tradesmen who built it, postmen, delivery men, passers-by who knock and ask if they might see inside. Only last week a locksmith, called to deal with a sticky lock, said, "I've never seen a house like this before. It's beautiful! It's absolutely stunning!"

Now that we have set the precedent, more modern houses are being built in this town by others who think modern is beautiful. I'm glad that the Government is to make it easier for all tastes to be catered for.

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

We need an inquiry into deaths in custody

Sir: I am the mother of Joseph Scholes, who died aged 16 while incarcerated at Stoke Heath children's prison in March 2002, and whose death forms part of your article regarding the tragic death of Adam Rickwood and Britain's abusive treatment of young offenders (11 August).

Tears rolled down the cheeks of my family and myself while I read aloud the story of Adam's painfully short life. Families are often vilified when a young child dies in custody, but the love and responsibility his family felt for him shone brightly through.

Following Joseph's death I have been supported by many in calling for a full public inquiry into Joseph's death and the shocking issues that it raises about the ongoing systemic abuse of vulnerable children in custody.

Lessons cannot and will not be learned while the Home Office continues to conduct piecemeal inquiries into the deaths of children in prison, inquiries which families have no faith in. I call upon David Blunkett to accept responsibility, cease procrastinating and to order an immediate and full public inquiry so that the families can have confidence that the failures which led to their children's deaths are identified and not repeated. They should not have to face years of agonising distress banging on the door of the Home Office only to be patronised or ignored as my family has been.

Meliden, Denbighshire

Sir: Maxine Frith's account of the punishment of vulnerable children (report, 12 August) highlighted many of the faults that are prevalent in the youth justice system today. As a practitioner in a youth justice team I have viewed with concern the alarming increase in the use of custody for young children from very difficult backgrounds, who in many cases have suffered terrible physical, emotional and mental abuse. However her account makes no mention of some of the other areas in which the system is failing young people.

The Government's recent announcement of cutbacks in public spending will directly affect those services which are desperately trying to put interventions in place for these children. One of the biggest reasons for young people being sent to custody is the unavailability of suitable places in the community, accommodation which is being directly or indirectly financed by local authority social service departments.

The Government's obsession with key performance indicators and "value for money" public spending means that our children's homes are, like the prisons, full to capacity, and with no adequate provision for those desperately seeking supported accommodation. Instead of chanting the mantra of building more prisons, the Government would do well to look at its "net-widening" policies, where more and more young people are being drawn into the criminal justice system, and look at providing adequate accommodation and spending money on alleviating poverty and deprivation.

Hyde, Cheshire

Sir: Regrettably Martin Narey (letter, 12 August) appears more interested in besmirching Adam Rickwood's reputation and berating The Independent for highlighting the disturbing circumstances surrounding his death than in considering why it was that a vulnerable 14-year-old boy in his care committed suicide.

All prisoners, regardless of what they may or may not have done, are entitled to be treated with dignity and held in a safe environment. Despite his reassuring words that reducing self-inflicted deaths in prison is a top priority, Mr Narey will know that these have been increasing in recent years. In the case of young prisoners there have been some 180 such deaths since 1990.

It is about time that government ministers and senior officials acknowledge this for the scandal it is, and stop lashing out at those raising legitimate concerns about a very real crisis in our prisons.

Director, Crime and Society Foundation
London WC2

Sir: Your 11 August issue raised a single study (the unfortunate case of Adam Rickwood) to front-page status in order to castigate a social evil. There is no doubt that this can be effective journalism. However, I feel that such exposure (in this case) required more openly judicious treatment than you appear to have given such an important project.

Adam is the victim of dark forces. From paragraph one the reader is on his side. Life was "not always harmonious". He "found himself" in trouble with teachers. He could have been a perfect monster. How many drunk drivers have "found themselves" in collisions? "By 2002 he had been excluded": with or without justification?

I do not deny that young Adam was probably a tragic victim, perhaps of several social forces, all beyond his control. He was known to the police. He was "charged with wounding" after his victim needed "intensive care for a stomach wound caused by a bottle". Only careful re-reading reveals that this bottle was wielded by Adam.

London NW8

Sir: Youth crime is falling and has been for the last 10 years. Yet the incarceration of young people, many of whom are suffering serious life traumas, is increasing dramatically. What this adds up to is that some of the most vulnerable children in our society are made victims of a "law and order" policy that criminalises distress.

In pursuing such policies politicians consistently fail to listen to young people and to learn from them how support can be offered at times when it would make a difference. Politicians are quick to bang the drum of being tough on crime when the falling crime rate makes it superficially appear that being tough "works" but little, it seems, has been learnt from the 1996 Audit Commission Report, "Mis-spent Youth", which argued that too little is spent on supporting young people before they get to the serious end of the system.

Adam's tragedy was a tragedy of no one in authority taking the time to listen, while politicians only listen to, and then themselves promote, a vacuous hysteria of fear.

Director, Pathways Into and Out of Crime, ESRC Research Network,
School of Education, University of Sheffield

Sir: Time in prison can often disrupt young lives. YMCA England believes that to avoid tragedies like Adam Rickwood's, young offenders need to be supported by staff in prison to whom they can relate and with whom they can have a trusting relationship. Also, such staff need to help individuals to continue their mainstream education while also supporting them to access and engage in informal education and help to address the causes behind their crimes.

In the 14 Young Offenders' Institutions where the YMCA operates, the use of, for example, counselling skills, nationally accredited personal development programmes, and advice and information drop-in centres has led to real changes in the behaviour and well-being of the young people we work with.

An approach that is tailored to the young person with frequent feedback from the individual works. It allows the young person to "own the process" of their learning and achieve real goals that they have helped identify as appropriate to their needs at that time.

If future tragedies are to be avoided, we need to ensure that young people in prison are not isolated. They need to be given the right support to address the causes of their offending and make positive changes.

National Secretary, YMCA England
London E17

Answers to bullying

Sir: As a retired teacher, I don't disagree with former chief inspector Brian Woollard's advice to his son to deal with a school bully by hitting him on the nose (letter, 11 August); but I would like to ask him two questions.

First, would he have put his name to the same advice before retirement - or (as a policeman) would he have been more inclined to caution parents and teachers in a similar position against inciting violence?

Second, the bully who persecuted his child was eventually deterred only by a physical assault: how does Mr Woollard think bullies should be dealt with when victims are clearly incapable of defending themselves?

Hedon, East Riding

Sir: Teachers do it, police officers do it, even the Dalai Lama does it, according to Brian Woollard. And what is it these worthies do? They advocate the use of violence to solve our problems.

Go and punch him on the nose, son. Well done! No need to spare a thought for the individuals involved, the harm suffered by those who hit and those who are hit, the next rounds of violence that this one will lead to.

John Prescott does it one on one, Tony Blair does it on a much grander scale so as to ingratiate himself with George Bush's son. So let's all go out and punch our neighbours on the nose.

Ditchling, Sussex

Diana memorial

Sir: With regard to that ditch in Hyde Park ("Diana fountain may have to close permanently, says designer", 12 August), perhaps the best that can be done now is to deposit bunches of flowers in it (wrapped in cellophane of course) and accept that this reflects the common view of mourning as well as the architectural outcome of a committee too scared to propose a magnificent or stunning tribute.

A grand fountain in central London would be very welcome, but a more modest proposal would be to repair the drinking fountains in the parks and install additional ones at each gate. This small-scale enterprise would involve only a modest budget. It would be of benefit to thousands who use the parks each day and only the cola vendors could possibly object.

London W9

Ins and outs

Sir: As a dyke/gay woman/lady homosexual/lesbian/queer (delete as applicable) I can sympathise with Richard Madeley's apparent error ("How's a fellow to know when he can say dyke", 12 August). I often don't know how to refer to myself and friends, and never know what's "in" among the out.

However, the reclaiming of words like "dyke" and "queer" by the gay community is similar to blacks who using "nigger" to turn a derogatory word on its head. But being white I'd never refer to anyone as a "nigger", and this is where Madeley's mistake lies: it's OK for us to call ourselves dykes and queers, but for no one else.

London E14

Terror and torture

Sir: Is it not prejudicial to the case of individuals suspected of terrorism to refer to them as "terrorist suspects" rather than "terrorism suspects"("Blunkett faces revolt over terror powers", 10 August)? We do not refer to "rapist" or "robber" suspects, but rather to "rape" and "robbery".


Sir: Evidence cannot be gained by torture (report, 12 August). This very important practical principle seems to have escaped Lord Justice Laws. It has been convincingly argued at least since the late 18th century that what people will say under duress is no evidence, because they will confess to anything their torturers want them to say.


The Biggs issue

Sir: Daniel Farrington (letter, 10 August) questions the continued imprisonment of Ronnie Biggs. It must be remembered that for 30 years Biggs was enjoying life in South America. Contrast his life to that of the train driver who was brutally battered during the robbery so that he was unable to work again and in fact died as a result of the injuries suffered. Mr Farrington's sympathy may be with the criminal: mine is with his victim.


Greek myth

Sir: So the Greeks have been making feta cheese for 6,000 years, even though they only settled there in 3,000 BC ("Greece, from Archimedes to Zorba", 11 August)? Maybe they just nipped into Greece for a bit of cheese-making and nipped out again before they decided to stay.

Dunstable, Bedfordshire