Speed cameras, Bush and others

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Speed cameras should be controlled by independent traffic police

Speed cameras should be controlled by independent traffic police

Sir: The fact that the official report (15 June) concluded that speed cameras save lives and that they are virtually all in the right place should come as no great surprise. The Government likes cameras.

I am surprised that with all of the effort and fanfare that has gone into this initiative that it is only saving 100 lives a year. That is not to belittle the saving of one life. As a former police officer I have seen many tragic things and had to deliver bad news. However, I view it as a poor return on the investment.

The report has not assessed how many accidents speed cameras cause. The fact that people are having to concentrate more on their speed and less on their driving is dangerous and causes fatigue, a major cause of accidents. In addition the greater emphasis on speed cameras and the reduction of traffic police has led to more drink drivers, more dangerous vehicles and other serious offences going undetected. How many lives has this cost? Without considering these issues the report is meaningless.

There appears to be a powerful lobby determined to increase the number of speed cameras no matter what. A balanced and sensible debate seems unlikely. The creation of an independent national traffic police force who could take control of the cameras from the unaccountable "safety partnerships" would aid public confidence.

This would allow the police to use money from the cameras to fund additional officers and also educational programmes. This would give the motoring public some confidence that the cameras were being used sensibly and not just as cash cows. It would also halt the real damage which is being done between the police and the public.

CHRISTOPHER PARKER
Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire

Bush's tactics made Americans into targets

Sir: In reporting the beheading of American engineer, Paul Johnson; Andrew Gumbel writes "... the families of expatriate workers never expected to be hit so hard" (19 June).

But they should have been. As a Briton who has chosen to live overseas, in my case Thailand, it was obvious from the onset of Bush and Blair's war on terror that ordinary Britons and Americans living and working overseas would become targets for organizations such as al-Qa'ida. It was bound to have a devastating impact on the interests of Britain and America, especially in the Middle East, but most likely anywhere in the world.

It is truly shocking that this has come home to small-town America in such a horrific way. The only good that I hope might come of it is that Americans wake up to the damage Bush and his nasty, arrogant government are doing to American interests, and above all to Americans like Paul Johnson and the communities in which they live.

Dr JONATHAN SHAW
Khlong Luang, Thailand

Sir: Saudi rebels arbitrarily seize and detain foreigners, sentence them to death without even the semblance of legal process and execute them by beheading. Our leaders denounce the killers as evil and barbaric and promise their eradication.

The Saudi government has done precisely the same thing as the rebels, hundreds of times, with the added vileness of turning the butchery into public entertainment, and our leaders offer them our full support, sell them billions of pounds worth of weapons, and call them "friends of the civilised world" (Jack Straw's words).

Does anyone see a problem here, or is it just me?

ARAN LEWIS
London SW17

Sir: I was walking down a street in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with some fellow Australians when a car full of Saudi youths sped past us and pelted us with eggs. I had just arrived to start work at Riyadh Military Hospital, so this was quite disconcerting. Some weeks later three nurses were arrested leaving a "social gathering" by the religious police (or Matawa). They were jailed for three weeks in appalling conditions.

Three US military men accompanying them were also arrested. The men were handcuffed, taken to Battha, the old part of the city where criminals are beheaded every Friday, and then threatened that this is where they would end up the next day. Their commanding officer managed to secure their release but the men were badly beaten.

I can quote numerous incidents of this kind, as can anyone who has worked in Saudi Arabia. The problem is that these incidents occured 15 years ago - before al-Qa'ida existed, before 9/11 and when Iraq was a friendly government.

Saudi Arabia has a small indigenous population not much bigger than that of Scotland. Men with the right inclination and talent join the armed forces or the National Guard. The remainder often end up working for the police force; a poorly paid, poorly educated organisation. I am therefore not surprised that the Saudi authorities were unable to secure Paul Johnson's release.

Saudi Arabia is an extremely vulnerable society, thanks to the "head in the sand" attitude of the Saudi royal family and "Western" interests. A solution would be recognition that al-Qa'ida is a manifestation of the anger of the man on the street and to allow Saudi citizens to manage their own affairs, before extremists take over.

BARRY ROSE
Dorking, Surrey

Sir: It is impossible not to be disgusted and outraged at the sickening cruelty of Paul Johnson's execution. Nothing justifies the gruesome bloodshed of innocent people caught in the crossfire. But isn't this always the case? Innocents always pay the price for the misbegotten judgments of their leaders.

But what bothers me as a Muslim more than anything else is the perpetual justification of such acts as retribution for sanctioning injustices inflicted on Muslims in occupied Kashmir, Palestine, Chechnya and Iraq. Long before the fourth Geneva convention was instituted, Islam taught believers to treat captors with compassion and respect. Therefore the criminals' manipulative claim that they acted under the rubric of Islam is a cruel ruse.

Dr MUNJED FARID AL QUTOB
London NW10

Sir: Yet again (report, 19 June) you imply a degree of legitimacy to the killing of hostages by terrorist groups, by referring to these as "executions". Kindly refer to these for what they truly are, as "murders".

DAVID YOUNG
Kenley, Surrey

Sir: A US airstrike kills 20 in Falluja and provokes no condemnation. One American hostage is beheaded and the "murderers" are denounced worldwide. Would someone please tell me why Mr Johnson's death is worth so many more column inches than the un-named, and un-cared-about Iraqis.

DEBRA HART
Marseillan, France

Funding for NHS

Sir: More funding would definitely fix the level of care and hygiene in today's NHS hospitals (letter, 4 June). The numbers of trained staff on an acute ward are far lower, probably under half, than when I was a junior doctor (1984-8).

Since 1989 hospitals negotiate tight contracts, often on a cost-per-case basis with local "purchasers". Hospital managers use tools to control costs such as "skills-mix review" and "occupancy rates" with the result that a trained nurse might cover several acute medical wards at night and patients face long waits on trolleys in casualty for a bed to become free.

Other "efficiencies" include "out-sourcing" services such as cleaning and catering. With the loss of loyalty and commitment goes a reduction in cleanliness and hygiene.

The NHS continues to provide increasing amounts of medical intervention to a growing aged population. We need either to invest properly in the NHS or switch to an insurance-based system to provide a level and standard of healthcare we are happy with, for ourselves, our ageing families and our compatriots.

Dr SARAH EVANS
Tring, Hertfordshire

Outdoor delights

Sir: Reluctant as I am to contradict Will Self's hazed childhood memories (Magazine, 12 June), it should be pointed out that Forest School Camps (FSC) in fact had its origins in a progressive (not Communist Party) school in the New Forest, Hampshire, in the 1930s.

We remain active, providing an adventurous outdoor educational experience for children from a wide range of backgrounds. While we have much fondness for Beefy, a charismatic teacher from the original school, we remain firmly in touch with the present.

Eschewing drugs in favour of the excitement and stimulation of the outdoors, and the delight of the communities we forge, we remain popular, and indeed oversubscribed. Will's "whelps" would be very welcome to join us, pustulated or not, and I'm sure they would love us too.

WILL COPPOLA
Chair, Forest School Camps
London N7

Flag-waving patriots

Sir: I must take issue with Tony Adkins (Letters, 19 June) and his description of anyone who dares to display the Cross of St George as a "self-righteous, small-minded xenophobe".

Mr Adkins in his own self-righteous way has totally confused xenophobia with patriotism. These are not one and the same. My Collins English Dictionary defines xenophobia as "hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture". I am not a flag-waver but I do like to see the flag of my nation displayed.

I certainly do not hate and fear foreigners and find the opinion of Mr Adkins and his ilk insulting and just plain wrong. Pride in one's nation is not a crime. Does Mr Adkins find the displaying of national flags offensive if he goes abroad or is it only his own flag he objects to?

NEIL IMRIE
Rothwell, Northamptonshire

Sir: Poor Tony Adkins seems to have missed the whole point of flag-flying.

It's called "fun", Mr Adkins. It's also called "freedom". I read his letter while watching Latvia v Germany and noted both sets of fans waving the flag of their country.

His suggestion that these flag displays identify the neighbours he would not want to live next door to is hilarious. Here in North Wales, people are driving around with two flags fluttering from their car ... the cross of St George and the Welsh dragon. I suggest he comes out of Bromley and looks at the world, that's if he can sell his house, of course!

KEN ASHTON
Prestatyn, Denbighshire

Palliative care

Sir: Your leader "The right to refuse treatment" (19 June) is right to conclude that "the Government should turn its attention to legalising euthanasia for people in extreme suffering and who are able to communicate a clear desire to end their life".

But the sine qua non has to be the best and most widely available specialist palliative care services that are on offer. Currently, good palliative care is only patchily available and for historical and economic reasons focuses largely, but not exclusively, on people with malignant disease. It is often seen as an add-on to mainline medical services and is run by cash-strapped charitable organisations.

As a retired GP and hospice trustee I would strongly argue that there is a need for specialist palliative care services to be made available for all diseases.

The often complex management of pain, breathlessness, constipation, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia, headache etc which make up the range of symptoms for which palliative care is so essential, are not confined to those with cancer, motor neurone disease, MS and Aids.

While the Government turns its attention to euthanasia, it should also keep its eye firmly fixed on the greatest possible support for specialist palliative care services.

Dr NICK MAURICE
Marlborough, Wiltshire

Skinny skippers

Sir: On a recent trip to Barcelona we took a tour on an open-top bus. On our trip around the city we noticed lots of children skipping with skipping ropes. Maybe if more of our kids got away from their TVs and PCs to enjoy this simple exercise then we just might have a fitter, slimmer generation.

CAROLYN TASKER-SMITH
Whiston, Merseyside

Clacking cockroaches

Sir: It comes as no surprise to me that cockroaches can survive a blast of radiation strong enough to kill a man outright (report, 15 June). When living in Nigeria in the early 1970s, we would often hear the "clack, clack" of a cockroach marching across the parquet as we sat quietly of an evening.

In Lagos they come three inches long, and sometimes fly. We would roll the paper tightly and attack with vigour only to watch with disbelief as ten seconds later the offending creepy-crawlie would spring back into action and continue unabashed its noisy perambulation across the floor!

LINTY WRIGHT
Hampton, Middlesex

TUC comrades

Sir: "Why aren't British trade unions doing more to back their Iraqi comrades", asks Johann Hari (18 June). Well, if he'd ask us we'd tell him how we are already helping. And not only British unions, but we're working internationally, including co-operation with the Confederation of Arab Unions. The world-wide TUC (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) meets in Brussels on 23 June, when we'll review extending our aid, as wanted by the representative Iraqi unions. We're already on the job!

ROGER LYONS
TUC President
London WC2

Take no notice

Sir: Recently, walking in the Lake District, I came upon the following notice: "Red Squirrels drive slowly". Could it be that I have inadvertently discovered the reason why our native species is being overtaken by the dreaded grey squirrel?

JULIE FINKLE
Threshfield, Skipton

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