No 'Portsmouth defence', Father and child let down and others

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The Independent Online

No 'Portsmouth defence' for violence against gays

Sir: Like Mr Horsfall (letter, 3 November), I am delighted that the courts will soon be able to treat homophobic crimes as hate crimes, and give longer sentences. This ought to have happened years ago. And I agree that the "Portsmouth defence" has been responsible for some dreadful miscarriages of justice, where someone charged with a homophobic attack, even murder, has been able to plead in mitigation that they were suddenly overcome with the oddly-named "homosexual panic".

However, there was a major reform at the end of 2002. The days when the Portsmouth defence was an effective picklock for attackers of lesbians and gay men are, I hope and believe, gone for ever. The Crown Prosecution Service now operates under a new Policy on Prosecuting Homophobic Crime, which is one of the best of all the reforms introduced by the departing Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir David Calvert-Smith.

In the new policy and guidance, crown prosecutors are told, in detail, how they should actively challenge any attempt by the accused to use the Portsmouth defence. If necessary they should ask the police to investigate further, and find out if there is any evidence to support it or to rebut it. Defence lawyers have no doubt studied these documents as carefully as crown prosecutors. Interestingly, not a single accused in England or Wales has attempted to use the Portsmouth defence since the new policy came into force, as far as I am aware.

Dr MICHAEL HALLS

LGBT Community Safety Officer

The Intercom Trust, Exeter

Father and child let down by courts

Sir: I wish to express my support for David Chick and thank him for highlighting the injustices suffered by "absent" fathers.

The family courts are failing fathers and children. On many occasions, contact orders are made for fathers to have regular contact with their child, only to have them flouted by mothers. There is no redress for those fathers if the order is not complied with, although, in theory, a breach of such an order can result in a fine or imprisonment.

In my partner's case, a contact order has been breached consistently for the last four years and despite having taken the case back to court twice, the relationship between father and son continues to deteriorate as contact is eroded by the mother to no more than the occasional phone call and weekly letters that he may or may not receive. My partner has not seen his son now for over a year, despite repeated efforts, and the court will not enforce the order.

My partner is a very decent, loving person and a devoted father, a local magistrate and a school governor. However, due to the failings of the family courts, his much-loved son is deprived of a wonderful father as well as a half-brother and sister, adoring grandparents, great grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. The fight is not over but it is unlikely to be won by father or son, but by a woman who has decided her feelings of discomfort in seeing her ex-husband are more important than the needs and rights of her son.

Thank you once again, to David Chick for bringing this issue to light. It is a more common problem than people think and desperately needs addressing. Magistrates and judges need to be given strong guidelines on dealing with breaches of these orders. As they stand, they have no teeth.

Name and address supplied

Sir: As a family lawyer, I deal with a lot of disagreements over contact with children in separated families.

Most families sort out contact fairly well for themselves. There is a minority of mothers who refuse contact for no good reason. The recurring themes amongst the mothers who are uneasy about contact for good reason are: fathers who make arrangements for contact and do not turn up (leaving children sitting on their packed bags waiting for their father until the horrible truth slowly dawns on them); fathers who turn up late or bring the children back late (leaving mother imagining horrible accidents and leading to a stressful and late evening before school the next day); fathers who have no idea of how to care for their children (which can lead to fears for their safety, for example when they cannot fasten car seat belts); fathers who cannot acknowledge the needs of their children in any way (which can make contact a bad experience for them); and fathers who use contact as an opportunity to have a go at their ex.

If any of this sounds familiar, then I suggest that fathers do their groundwork as soon as possible, ideally before the relationship with the mother breaks up. Spend time with your children, get to know their routines and needs, get to know them as people, learn to enjoy their company for themselves and not as a trophy to be "won" from your ex. Having a proven track-record as a carer for your child can prevent concerns arising.

Contact takes place only to benefit the child and is not a right of the parent. It works best when each parent can trust the other to meet the children's needs. Mothers need to respect the contribution fathers can make to their children's lives, and fathers need to respect the day-to-day hard slog that mothers put in.

The court system is not really designed to foster that trust and respect. Mediation is better placed to encourage parents to listen to one another's concerns and to find practical solutions to problems. It also helps to focus on the person who is most important in all of this - not the mother, not the father, but the child. Working quietly between parents to communicate and reach a constructive solution may not be as much fun as a publicity stunt, but the effect is likely to be longer-lasting.

CHRISTINE MANNING

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Sir: As Tower Bridge opens, allowing traffic to move freely again, the office doors should be closed behind the authorities responsible for this chaos. If they cannot deal with a comic-book superhero fighting for the right of children to have access to both their parents, how can they cope with real terrorists, who are no doubt watching this fiasco in stitches of laughter?

DAVE ELLISON

Warrington

Season of ill will

Sir: We appear to be receiving a barrage of Home Office announcements over anti-social behaviour. I do not understand why the Government does not ban the general sale of fireworks. A licensing or registration of potential purchasers will immediately stop young people going into a shop and buying this ideal anti-social device.

I am certain that there will be a civil rights concern - "Every one must have the right to buy a firework, light it in their hands, risk mutilating themselves and others and be free to distress and discompose all those living in the neighbourhood." However, as the firework selling period becomes longer - almost as long as the hot cross bun selling period - I estimate that we are discomforted by firework misuse for about 10 per cent of the year.

But this simple piece of legislation will prove another fox-hunting mire for this populist government. As with a hunting ban, opponents of the restraint of firework misuse will become vocal, and, the Government, not wishing to become unpopular with a tiny minority who do not vote for them anyway, will dither into a multitude of schemes including self-registration and the licensing of "people friendly" fireworks.

JOHN MCKINLEY

Birmingham

Toast to Iraq

Sir: Despite your unattributed insinuations ("It's high noon for New York's Sun", 28 October), our circulation is comfortably above the 45,000 a day we're guaranteeing advertisers. Though our strategy has always been to start with a modest circulation and grow, our circulation is also well ahead of our internal planning. We are the fastest growing major-metro-market daily in America.

No one with his wits about him compares, as you did, the Sun's circulation, which is almost entirely in New York City, with the national circulation of The New York Times. Regard circulation of the two newspapers in New York City and note the direction of the trend lines. Then you'll see things from a different point of view.

As for what you call "rumours" that we raised a toast to American and British soldiers as they set out to liberate Iraq from the Baathist tyranny, you could have confirmed that yourself with a simple phone call. Like millions of Americans, we think of the American, British and other Coalition forces every day and wish them a speedy victory in their courageous quest to secure freedom for the Iraqi people.

SETH LIPSKY

Editor The New York Sun

New York

Lamb was an eagle  

Sir: I cannot help but notice the enchanting story about St John's College, Oxford, and the inviting "Lamb and Flag" scholarships (report, 4 November). There may be, I fear, an error - your story appears to borrow C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien from the rival pub across the road - the Eagle and Child (also known as the "Bird and Baby"), where Tolkien, Lewis and other writers were known to drink regularly.

PENNY BOOTH

Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent

Prostitutes in peril

Sir: While a man is sentenced to eight years imprisonment for having sex when he knows he is infected with HIV we allow thousands of male and female prostitutes to ply their trade unregulated and free of any health checks. We have of course been here before, when we used to imprison syphilic prostitutes and typhoid carriers. Our legislators seem not to understand the first thing about disease. Their reaction comes instead straight from the Middle Ages;the devil is abroad, therefore burn witches!

Dr MILTON WAINWRIGHT

Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

University of Sheffield

Tolerance not for all

Sir: I thoroughly enjoyed most of Johann Hari's article on hate crimes ("It is wrong to punish thugs harder for beating up black or gay people", 5 November). However, why, in this excellent article on the promotion of tolerance, does he feel it is acceptable to decry my faith as "absurd", the God I believe in as "fictional" and those thoughtful Christians debating the theology of homosexuality using reason, scripture and the urgings of the Spirit as contorting themselves? It appears that, in Mr Hari's world, everything is to be tolerated, understood and respected, except Christianity.

ADAM TINWORTH

London SE13

Must read

Sir: Thanks for releasing the cute little Indy here in Manchester. Now I can read your paper during my university lectures, thus making them at least twice as interesting! Of course, I may be blaming your new format for my failure to gain a degree in three years' time ...

JEZ ROBINSON

Manchester

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