Why phone-tap evidence would be useless in British courts
Why phone-tap evidence would be useless in British courts
Sir: The Chair of the proposed Serious Organised Crime Agency, Sir Stephen Lander, is careful in his letter to you (7 February) not to dispute the reported comments by the Director of Public Prosecutions, but my experience is that the pitfalls of the use of intercept material, under the British legal systems, are widely misunderstood, not least by many lawyers and politicians.
What might work in the continental inquisitorial system of justice is by no means likely to be helpful, successful or possibly even fair under the accusatorial system.
Those who do not understand the issues often think that intercept evidence is a "silver bullet" that will ensure convictions in criminal trials. This is very far from the truth. What is said in covert criminal telephone conversations is often heavily coded and open to wide interpretation. Often there are real difficulties with proving the identity of those speaking; often there are difficulties of interpreting conversations in a foreign tongue (also heavily coded).
Under the accusatorial system the defence would wish to listen to (and, worse, get the jury to listen to!) hours, days, months even, of intercept material in real-time, despite the production of evidential transcripts by the prosecution. Our legal system would produce arguments about tone, substance and meaning. Wonderful for lawyers: not so good for justice or the jury.
Using intercept evidence and disclosing what is possible (and much more significantly what is not possible) will assist criminals enormously and actually make fighting crime and terrorism much harder.
Further, some intercept materiel comes from GCHQ. That capability is vital to the defence of the realm. It must not be compromised for short-term expediency and it is irresponsible of politicians to suggest otherwise.
Patient choice could undermine standards
Sir: Maxine Frith (Health Check, 8 February) is surely right that that most people want fast access to high-quality treatment at their local hospital, rather than an extended array of choices, understandable only to those with an advanced knowledge of statistics. It may well be that, as she suggests, the Government is trying to create divisions within the medical profession as the Independent Treatment Centres cream off the routine surgery and the funds that go with it.
Far from designing a system which delivers quality healthcare and value for money, they are actually aiming to shift the blame for the inadequacies of the secondary care sector down to primary care and even to the patients themselves. In effect they will be able to claim that it is not the fault of government if you have to wait too long for your surgery; it's the fault of your incompetent GP, who chose the wrong hospital, or of yourself for not understanding the system. When you are old or ill, making such decisions may be just too much.
Secondly, choice will only apply to the easy bits of medical care: the hernias, the cataracts and the joint replacements. Policy with regard to the difficult bits is actually to reduce choice, and with good reason. It is accepted that cancer care has a better outcome when delivered through dedicated cancer centres, where skilled practitioners pool their resources. Gone are the days when any general surgeon removed lumps from breasts or resected bowel tumours in between the varicose veins. Similarly the policy is to concentrate cardiac surgery into a few units doing a high volume of work, thus maintaining expertise at an advanced level.
There seems to be a contradiction, and I would suggest that pursuing spurious choices may result in deskilling your local hospital, with an overall detrimental effect on standards.
Dr BILL HART
Everthorpe, East Riding of Yorkshire
Way ahead for bikes
Sir: Increasing cycle use is not just about creating cycle networks, but also involves "hearts and minds", ("Straying from the path: Britain falls behind Europe in the cycling stakes", 7 February). We need far more support for travel plans for individuals, schools and employers, to provide people with the information, encouragement and road-skills training to take up cycling with confidence.
We also need to tackle driver behaviour which endangers not only cyclists but also pedestrians. This is why we are calling for lower speed limits, tougher sentences for driving offences such as speeding, drink-driving and mobile-phone use, and better enforcement of road traffic law.
The health and environmental benefits associated with cycling apply as much to society as they do to the individual, and it is crucial that this benign mode of transport receives the well-targeted investment it deserves.
Campaigns & Policy Manager
CTC (Cyclists' Touring Club)
Sir: As a Dutch citizen living in London I am not surprised that the casualty rate for cyclists is five to 10 times higher in the UK than in Europe. I have long been appalled at the lack of hand signals by cyclists on the road. In addition, London cyclists swap functions at the drop of a hat, from cyclist to pedestrian, to the greater confusion of the motorist.
Sir: I have twice visited Deddington ("Village that gives the lie to the scare stories about immigration", 12 February) specifically to film interviews with former immigrants from the Third Reich resident there, for the Shoah Foundation's Visual History Collection.
Both were refugees of Jewish origin who had to flee from Germany or Austria in the 1930s to save their lives - asylum-seekers in today's parlance - and in return both have contributed more than handsomely to British society, in the nursing and the commercial sector respectively. Both became pillars of Deddington society, one as a local councillor.
That Sir Andrew Green has not even bothered to find out about his neighbours before sounding off about them with his customary mixture of prejudice and ignorance speaks volumes for his way of grossly misrepresenting the world around him, in blind contradiction of facts staring him in the face. At least my interviewees have been spared meeting him and being exposed to the type of prejudice that was all too prevalent in Britain in the late 1930s and that is seeking, through organisations like Migrationwatch, to acquire some spurious respectability again today.
Dr ANTHONY GRENVILLE
Historical Consultant to the Association of Jewish Refugees
Sir: I don't think there has been any better illustration of New Labour's worship of big business and its deep ideological commitment to the capitalist free market economy than the decision of the leadership to press ahead with 24-hour sale of alcohol, and the decision to reprivatise South East Trains.
Virtually no one - not the police, not the public, not medical personnel - wants pubs and clubs to be able to sell alcohol 24 hours a day. The only people who want this legislation are the drinks industry. So New Labour dutifully overrides everyone's concerns and gives the industry what it wants.
South East Trains is a very successfully run publicly owned company. Those who use it are apparently satisfied with the service it provides. There is no reason, other than an ideological preference for private as against public ownership, to privatise South East Trains.
Shouldn't these things make any decent Labour voter or MP thoroughly sick?
Sir: During the past week, my gorge has been steadily rising at the apologetic reporting of the allied bombing of Dresden sixty years ago. In 1945, such an attitude would have merited the incredulous response, "Don't you know there's a war on?"
As a newspaper normally meticulous to provide a critical balance in your reporting, could you now remind us with photos of German bombing of Portsmouth, Plymouth, Exeter, Southampton, Coventry and that threatening military target Bournemouth, precisely what provoked our retaliation?
Or should we have turned the other cheek? Ask the citizens of London who at the time were under daily and nightly attack from pilotless "flying bombs".
Milton under Wychwood, Oxfordshire
Sir: I well recall taking an age to explain to American friends the difference between Prince Charles's first wife being HRH Diana, Princess of Wales and not being HRH Princess Diana of Wales.
I can't imagine how long it will take to explain that his second wife will be HRH Camilla, Princess of Wales but will be known as HRH the Duchess of Cornwall; and, yes, she will, technically, be the Queen, as the wife of the King, in due course, but will be called HRH Princess Consort. The mind boggles!
Sir: As a lifelong republican with no religious sympathies, I am at a loss as to how to regard the impending royal marriage. In the end, I suppose I will have to be offended by the fact that it will never be possible for me to refuse to kow-tow to Queen Camilla.
Sir: I hate to disillusion Cyril Meadows (letter, 9 February) but "crowned republic" is not an oxymoron ("monarchical republic" might be). The Glorious Revolution of 1688 proved conclusively that Parliament is the supreme authority in our country. A republic with a crowned head is quite legitimate.
Liberty in peril
Sir: Charles Clarke's remark, "I'm all in favour of human rights, but I'm even more in favour of our national security being protected" ("Guantanamo Briton plans to sue over MI6 agent's role", February 7), could have been said by spokesmen for any number of repressive regimes. It is the standard excuse for state-sanctioned abuses.
If there are certain principles that are either held wholeheartedly or not at all, then surely the respect for human rights is one of them. What exactly is there left for a western democracy to defend or promote when its supposed core values are undermined and paid only feeble lip-service by its leaders?
The US fundamentalists and extremists whose ideology created Guantanamo, whose chief ally has been this government, have done untold harm, by silent endorsement and by example, in contributing to the further acceptance of such barbarous aberrations throughout the world - a cause of present and future suffering for millions.
Sir: You quote Tony Blair on the subject of ID cards (report, 11 February), as saying, "I think these civil liberties arguments are a bit outdated."
That opinion alone should forfeit the vote of our country. Civil liberties are the bedrock of our nation and any leader that casts them aside with such casual scorn should himself be cast aside without ado.
Sir: Mike Stroud (letter, 12 February) goes along the motorway at 70mph and 97 per cent of the other cars he sees going his way overtake him. But he doesn't see all the other law-abiding drivers ahead and behind on the inside lane because they are going at the same speed as he is, hidden by huge lorries.
Sir: How can the Bush administration condemn Iran for pursuing nuclear weapons ("Washington warns Iran that its patience will not last for ever,", 10 February) when simultaneously the Pentagon is requesting $18m to study a new bunker-busting nuclear bomb? Is America against nuclear arms or for them? Or is it that only certain "enlightened" nations can be trusted to possess and use them wisely? If the United States doesn't lead, it shouldn't be surprised when others choose not to follow.
ROBERT J INLOW
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
Sir: Johann Hari has a very one-sided view of the influence of religion (book review, 11 February). Certainly many evil deeds have been done in the name of religion. However, why doesn't Hari mention the benign influence of religion working through people such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King? And let us not forget that religion played no role in the thinking of four of the biggest monsters of the 20th century: Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: In "You ask the questions" (3 February) you state that the novelist Joanna Trollope is a "fifth-generation niece of Anthony Trollope" but she is no such thing. As Miss Trollope herself admits, the chronicler of Barchester is not one of her forebears.
P L DICKINSON
College of Arms, London EC4
Age of greed
Sir: Have we gone so far down the path of consumerism that furniture store openings are the new raves? We've had the Summers of Love. After the appalling spectacle of people trying to kill each other over a sofa, it looks like we have to look forward to a Summer of Greed.