Terror, Europe and others

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The Independent Online

Bombs or bollards: arrested for sketching on the South Bank

Bombs or bollards: arrested for sketching on the South Bank

Sir: Ron Dare (Letters, 25 June) says the majority in this country wants a Home Secretary who "will take whatever legal measures are required to protect them"; but the evidence which would legitimate the detention of those imprisoned in Belmarsh (and therefore the proof that acts of terror have been averted) has not been made public. Mr Dare may suppose that there is no smoke without fire and that if so far no bombings have occurred in the UK since 9/11, it is thanks to Mr Blunkett's detentions.

On Easter Monday I was in central London sketching locations of South Bank entertainment sites on the Waterloo South Bank footbridge in preparation for a meeting with a client to whom I hope to sell a signage system. The two police officers who approached and asked what I was doing did not believe me in spite of the product brochures and client contact lists I said I had in my bag. They did not ask to see them but called another half dozen constables, then helped themselves to a bag search. On finding philosophy texts in my bag (a subject I happen to write on) whose authors were Iranian-Islamic (12th and 16th century!) they then marched me to Waterloo police HQ.

Following an hour-long conflab over the contents of my bag (which included a foreign language newspaper of all things) the officers emerged to announce my arrest under the terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act "on reasonable suspicion that I was engaged in activities constituting a risk to public security". Small circles in my sketch indicating bollards along a footpath were taken to be intended bomb placements.

I spent four hours (having already been detained for three and a half) in a cell in Kennington police station wondering whether I might not be joining those in Belmarsh where Mr Blunkett could detain me without explanation and, in the interest of public security, refuse to divulge the alleged evidence. If the majority in this country need protecting, they had better ask who the enemies of democracy currently are.

London N4

European apathy of the next generation

Sir: At last the Prime Minister has begun to make a stronger case for British involvement in the EU, although it is regrettable that he chose to emphasise that which the EU is not, rather than that which it is. He should not underestimate the institutionalised apathy that he will need to overcome.

I have recently had two vivid illustrations of the difficulties facing the pro-European cause. I used the present European debate as the vehicle to deliver a Key Skills lesson to some sixth form students; on being given the task in hand, their reaction was that they knew absolutely nothing about the European issue, and cared less. Some were unaware that there had even been recent elections. When given a brief impartial outline of the issue, their general reaction was that it was of no importance to them. They could conceive of no time when the opportunity to work, live or otherwise participate in the wider European Union would be of any relevance to them. When required to develop some basic thoughts on the merits or otherwise of European integration, most of them came out strongly against it.

As teachers, we are rightly not permitted to promote partisan cases, but this alliance of ignorance and opposition is deeply concerning. There is some evidence (borne out by others of my students) that the more people know, the more positive they become, but if the vast majority chooses to remain ignorant, there is little we can do.

Later the same day, I received information from the AQA exam board. It is the only one to offer an AS-level course in European Studies, which I have taught for two years. Both times, I have had a number of students who have wished to continue the course into the Upper Sixth, but I was informed that the take-up of the course had been so small (less than 20 institutions offer it) that AQA is planning no future developments on quite understandable commercial grounds. Given the necessary neutrality of our educational institutions on this issue, and the inherent indifference of the upcoming generation, what hope is there of Britons engaging any further in the European project?

Coggeshall, Essex

Sir: Dr Grey (letters, 22 June) says that we were told that the 1975 referendum was about "closer political union". We were not: my father has kept the papers from the government sent to all households prior to the referendum, and the phrase "there will be no erosion of national sovereignty" is used several times.

Epsom, Surrey

Sir: Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, thinks a referendum "winnable" because "much of Europe" has better pensions, transport, beaches, phone charges and water purity than Britain (report, 24 June). How can this "constitutional treaty" improve these conditions after decades of EU membership and recent years of Blairite failure? What we need is a different government in Britain, not an end to self-government by Britain.

Sheringham, Norfolk

Sir: John Redwood writes (letters, 23 June), apparently without irony, that measures contained in the EU constitution will stop Britain helping "US action in some Arab state". In view of the disastrous consequences of Blair's military adventure in Iraq, I would've thought that this is merely another reason we should be wholeheartedly approving the constitution.

London NW1

Medical recruitment

Sir: It has been a statutory requirement, since the foundation of the NHS, that appointment to a consultant position requires interview by an Advisory Appointment Committee (AAC) which includes appropriate Royal College representation. It is the responsibility of the college representative to ensure that the successful appointee is trained and qualified to deliver appropriate standards of clinical care and adequate training for the next generation of consultants.

This quality check is about to be undermined by a government initiative entitled the New Consultant Entry Scheme (NCES). This allows NHS Trusts which fail to make an appointment in the usual manner to offer an applicant a one-year contract without Royal College approval or reference to an AAC. Those appointed will count towards government statistics on consultant numbers.

The public associate the title "consultant" with a level of care previously assured by the AAC system and this will no longer be the case. As a surgeon with decades of experience in training, examining and appointing consultant surgeons I consider the NCES will foster a false sense of security regarding use of the title "consultant".

Regional Advisor & Examiner, The Royal College of Surgeons
King's Lynn, Norfolk

Sir: Deborah Orr ("An unhealthy obsession with class", 22 June) peers dimly into the mysteries of how our future doctors are chosen, and by whom.

My own medical school informed potential applicants that no preference would be given to sons or daughters of the university or to those of the medical profession. In so doing they possibly discriminated against those applicants most likely to have the greatest knowledge of what the commitment and life of a doctor would demand of them. A trainee in my former practice, after six years of Oxbridge training and one year of pre-registration work, announced her departure from her chosen profession: "It is not for me."

"But why did you start in the first place?" we asked.

"The career mistress said I was good at science and should therefore be a good doctor."

What a waste! It is not just the BMA that needs to develop a coherent and sensible policy of selection.

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Sir: In Deborah Orr's article, there is an assumption that acceptance at a medical school is a universal goal among young people, whatever their backgrounds, who wish to become doctors.

However, I know of quite a number of talented youngsters - my own son included - who have been deterred from applying by what they see as a culture of unreasonably long hours, an increased risk of litigation, and an unwieldy bureaucracy which is often at odds with patient care. Until these matters are properly addressed by successive governments, the medical profession will be in danger of failing to recruit a full range of clever and hard-working young people.

Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire

On the railways

Sir: Mark Steel (24 June) emphasises the failings and escalating costs of our railways, criticising the profit motive as a causative factor. There seems to have been an assumption in Britain that the railways have to be either completely in the private, profit-oriented domain or run as a nationalised public service.

The reality, though, may be a need for a "horses for courses" approach. There are some sectors, such as intercity passenger and rail freight, where "open access" free enterprise is appropriate, due to the potential abundance of competition, whilst subsidised captive market operations, such as commuter and branch lines, could be democratically accountable public services in public ownership.

Milton Keynes

Sir: It is easy to produce a funny article using a few actual bad experiences on the railway (Mark Steel, 24 June), spiced with a little judicious exaggeration, while omitting to mention that several thousand trains run to time every day.

The inference is that a car journey will always take you smoothly to your destination, while you work, use your mobile phone, eat, drink, stare out of the window and relax. There is enormous scope for improvement on our railways, but they remain the most civilised form of inland transport that we have.

Ledbury, Herefordshire

Help Darfur refugees

Sir: I read your article on Darfur (24 June) with despair. Yet the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Department sees no problem in sending asylum-seekers from Darfur back from Britain to Khartoum, Sudan.

I spent Wednesday standing surety in the Immigration Court, hearing that my friend from Darfur will be "removed" on 26 July. The Immigration Department takes no account, in its statement, of genocide, nor of a humanitarian crisis. There are at least 14 other Sudanese waiting in immigration removal centres.

Is the Immigration Department really representing our wishes as British people? Or do their powers need curbing.


In defeat unbeatable

Sir: If there is a silver lining to England's football defeat, it is surely that the country has been spared the sight of Tony Blair milking a victory for all it was worth.

Eastleigh, Hampshire

Sir: At the end of tonight's football match I lit my pipe with a different match from a box labelled "England's Glory" bearing the rubric "Made in Sweden".

Northophall, Flintshire

Vegetables from afar  

Sir: In reply to Dr Ralph (25 June), I think the organic baby carrots from Zambia and South Africa on sale recently in Tesco in Dingwall, Highland more than match the insanity of his asparagus from China.

Strathpeffer, Ross and Cromarty

Reclaim the flag

Sir: Your correspondents who believe it is xenophobic to fly the English flag should ask themselves why the English should be the only nation who aren't allowed to fly their national flag without being accused of xenophobia. It is about time we stopped being ashamed of our flag. The only way to reclaim our flag from the xenophobes is for the vast majority of tolerant English people to take our flag back and fly it when we want to without being accused of harbouring unpleasant, undesirable and anti-social beliefs.

Silkstone Common, South Yorkshire

Monarchy is unfair

Sir: The argument against the monarchy is not based on its £37m per year cost (report, 25 June) - although one wonders whether an elected head of state would need quite so many homes, quite such short working weeks and quite such long holidays. The real problems are its intrinsic unfairness, the fact that it perpetuates the idea that breeding is more important than ability and that it encourages the nation to hanker after past glories rather than welcome a rapidly changing future with enthusiasm and creativity.

Billericay, Essex

Take no notice

Sir: David Blunkett becomes ever more Draconian. I have today seen a large police vehicle emblazoned with "Caution Horses".