Murdered police officer, Guns and alcohol and others

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The Independent Online

Police officers want to be allowed to handcuff detainees

Sir: The death of a West Yorkshire police officer (report, 30 December) prompts people to ask whether the police should be armed routinely . Officers in Greater Manchester Police offer a less drastic solution, but one which we feel would lead to far fewer deaths and injuries to our colleagues. Quite simply, we seek the power to handcuff suspects automatically. As the law and Home Office guidelines presently stand we are prevented from making best use of the handcuffs we carry routinely. The Home Office warns police officers that they commit an assault unless they can justify the use of handcuffs.

The Home Secretary tells us that there are only three reasons which justify that assault: the arrested person is likely to escape; they are likely to attempt to escape; or they are likely to offer violence. The Home Office fails to recognise the uncertainty, lack of information and risks that confront officers when dealing with a suspect before an arrest is made.

Detention is the most dangerous and risky of all police activities. The Police Federation of England and Wales believe that when officers detain people for the purposes of a search or for an arrest, then they should have the power to restrain detainees automatically. We want officers to be able to take control in safety, while they carry out a search and make enquiries into the detainee. Automatic restraint on detention would help the police to do a better job.

Even before the death of our colleague DC Stephen Oake in Manchester, we were pressing for a change in the Home Office edict which puts the civil liberties and inconvenience suffered by detainees before the threats to the lives of police officers. We don't need to be armed, Mr Blunkett, we just need your permission to use our handcuffs lawfully, please.

Police Inspector
Greater Manchester Police

Guns and alcohol threaten air travel

Sir: Whilst I have never subscribed to the view that Blair is a "Bush poodle" I do find the decision to adopt the American practice of placing armed sky marshals on British flights worrying.

As an ordinary member of the public who flies occasionally, the Government expects me to believe that the presence of armed sky marshals will act as a deterrent to terrorists. Yet these are the very terrorists who have already decided that they are to perish in their planned act of terrorism so deterrence does not enter the equation.

If it is unsafe for me to travel on an aircraft armed with a gun why is it supposedly safe for me to travel on the same flight sat next to an armed sky marshal? How will passengers fare when a stray bullet from a sky marshal punctures the fuselage at 30,000 feet? Not too well I fear!

The Government's objective should be to ensure that security checks on employees and passengers at all airports are so tight that it is impossible for armed terrorists to get beyond the departure lounge. That should not be too much to expect.

Colchester, Essex

Sir: No doubt now that the American regime has begun plans to bully the rest of the world into conforming to their idea of security there will be the usual voices complaining about the arrogance of the world's most powerful nation, and I agree with them.

But, has anybody noticed that after a person has passed through all the security checks at an airport and had any nail scissors/files etc. confiscated, they can then walk straight to the duty free shop and buy themselves a Swiss army knife or a bottle of spirits - both of which are far more offensive weapons than the aforementioned manicure tools.


Sir: Why not have armed sky marshals on Easyjet, Ryan Air and other low-cost carriers? If fanatics are intent on seizing planes to crash into prominent buildings surely any airliner with full fuel tanks will do?

Bromyard, Herefordshire

Sir: Jim McAusland of the British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) is disingenuous in arguing (Letters, 24 December) that pilots resist random alcohol tests because a peer intervention programme is a more effective way of controlling the problem. The two solutions are not mutually exclusive.

I'm not sure which I find more worrying - that Balpa resist random tests, or that they seem to have been successful.

London W4

Sir: On a routine business trip to London, I travel to Edinburgh airport by bus. I'm reassured on this first leg of the journey because I know that the bus driver works in a regime where random tests for intoxication are the norm.

I then fly on a British Airways flight to Heathrow. I then complete my journey into central London by tube. I'm reassured on this final leg of the journey because I know that the tube driver works in a regime where random testing for excessive alcohol is routine - ten years ago, London Underground became one of the first British employers to introduce such testing.

The only part of my journey where I cannot have the reassurance which is provided by the random testing of safety-critical staff is the part where I am locked in an aircraft which hurtles through the sky at 400mph, six miles above the ground. This seems like a glaring anomaly. Is it safe to assume that a responsible official at the Civil Aviation Authority is taking urgent steps to remedy it ?


Child slavery

Sir: I commend wholeheartedly Johann Hari's thoughtful article "What about the poor workers who make your bargains in the sales?" (26 December). However, he omits one significant element concerning sweatshop labour: the number of children exploited.

It is estimated by the South Asian Coalition against Child Servitude (SACCS)that in India alone 60 million children are currently engaged in forced labour. Many have been sold or kidnapped to work in industries to which the authorities turn a blind eye. This not only exploits children, making it impossible for them to receive an education and break out of poverty. It also results in increasing youth unemployment, furthering the environment in which child servitude can flourish.

Last August I met 70 children rescued from such slavery, when I visited Mukti Ashram in Delhi, the rehabilitation wing of the work of SACCS. Aged 5-16, they had worked in a variety of industries, many of which we in the West benefit from. Examples are textiles, food production and the hotel trade.

I am in awe at the capacity of these youngsters to endure the most appalling catalogues of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, while still retaining hopefulness. Even more though, as a teacher, I was struck by the essential similarity between those children and those in my classes.

The UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child states the obligation we have to provide education for all children and protect them from environments which endanger their health, education and capacity to thrive. These are our children too and we are signatories to the declaration. It is time this issue was placed on the international political agenda.


Tax increases

Sir: When I read Cllr Dave Wilcox's letter (23 December), I expected his last paragraph which begins, "It is untenable to portray all local authorities as responsible for excessive council tax increases..." to continue making the point that some have avoided making excessive increases at all, a point he touches on later then drops.

Surely the simple truth about the increases is that just as some Labour councils tried to embarrass the last Tory government by claiming the need to push up the tax, now we are finding Tory councils trying to embarass the Labour government. The main difference is that then the popular press blamed the councils and now they are blaming the Government. Why does anyone pay attention to this constant bleating?

Taxes are the price we pay for civilisation, demanding an equitable contribution from us all. Do we really want the alternative?

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Timely solution  

Sir: The answer to Jean Elliott's anguish about noon and midnight (Letters, 29 December) is simple: adopt the 24-hour clock and the confusion about 12am and 12pm will be resolved. Perhaps The Independent's broadcasting and events listing could blaze a trail.

West Byfleet, Surrey

Sir: Whereas I agree entirely with Jean Elliott's conclusions over the need for clarity concerning the use of noon and midnight, in my young days the terms 12am and 12pm were as irrational and meaningless as they are today.

"Ante-meridian" and "Post-meridian" refer to the position of the sun relative to the meridian at Greenwich. At noon the sun is precisely over that meridian and therefore can be neither "ante" (before) nor "post" (after). Conversely at midnight the sun is over the exact opposite meridian and at that moment the time is equidistant between yesterday's noon and tomorrow's.

Chelmsford, Essex

Saucy disguise

Sir: I write concerning the "sprouts - yuk" problem with children. If only mothers were prepared to make a savoury white sauce with which to coat the offending vegetable, then children might eat sprouts and thereby consume sufficient amounts of zinc and ward off winter colds. This is how I ate them as a child and consequently have always liked sprouts (even without the sauce).

Salisbury, Wiltshire

Wollaton Hall

Sir: The restoration of Wollaton Hall (report, 29 December) will be a worthy project for lottery millions, but will establish a worrying precedent. Why should Nottingham council, who have failed in their duty to this Grade I treasure, be bailed out by public money? I hope Wollaton gets its £25m, but in return Nottingham council should surrender its ownership to a charitable trust dedicated to the building's preservation, and enjoyment by the public.

London SW4

Beagle instincts

Sir: Having been the owner of a lovely beagle, Meg, for the past four years I am wondering if the organisers of the recent space mission are aware of the natural instincts of beagles. Ours has vanished on numerous occasions, particularly when she has caught the scent of a deer - once for many days.

It is obvious to me that there is life on Mars and that Beagle-2 will show up shortly when she finds that she is unable to catch it. I have occasionally found that shouting "biscuits" loudly helps.

Dorchester, Dorset