War on terror, honours and others

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The Independent Online

Held at gunpoint by British police in war on terrorism

Sir: Having experienced the armed police raid on Wednesday's BA flight to Riyadh I think that the police and BA must be pleased that the story appears to have been subsumed by the news of the cancelled transatlantic flights.

Being held at gunpoint for three hours in an airline departure lounge is not an everyday occurrence in Britain, thankfully. I am sure that the action was in our interest as passengers and in the pursuit of flight safety and the war on terror. However, one cannot get away from the suspicion, planted by the police, that the whole exercise was exactly that, an exercise.

The departure lounge was surrounded by uniformed armed officers. A plainclothes officer said he was from Special Branch and that we were to remain seated and not to use mobile phones and that trips to the toilet were to be under escort. He then explained that sniffer dogs were going to be deployed and that we would be searched and then questioned individually. There were around 30 officers present, all wearing flak jackets, and half were visibly armed.

Arab passengers were questioned at greater length than Europeans. When I was questioned I asked the officer the reason for the action and was told, "It was routine sir, we have done it to a number of airlines." After processing we were sent to a hospitality lounge and told that the flight was cancelled.

Having now arrived back in Riyadh, thanks to Saudi Airlines, minus my luggage, I feel insulted and angry. If there was a terrorist threat why can't the police admit it? Why treat people in this supercilious manner? Your reporter got "no comment" from Special Branch and BA were being "cagey". The aircraft had only 50-plus passengers - hardly a tempting terrorist target, but very convenient numbers for the police to handle.

I suppose that living and working in this part of the world we tend to be a little more used to seeing heavily armed police. Imagine the fuss if the raid had occurred on a tourist flight to New York!

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Sir: One reason British police officers don't normally carry guns is that "nutters" with guns are more likely to use them if confronted by somebody wielding a gun. This raises the question why America is attempting to provoke nutters into using guns on aeroplanes.

It is easy to argue that the weapons which "sky marshals" shall carry won't damage the skin of the plane and endanger the passengers, but will the nutters be so considerate ?

If America is such a dangerous place to fly to, I'll take my holidays in Europe or other less dangerous parts of the world.

East Halton, Lincolnshire

Honours reward selfless work

Sir: Johann Hari's heart is in the right place ("Why our feudal honours system represents the worst of British", 31 December). But he does not understand how liberating the honours system can be for working-class people.

Lack of money forced my Scottish father to leave school at the age of 14. Apart from the Star of Burma (which he was awarded as one of Wingate's "Chindits", and which lay neglected and unspoken of at the bottom of my mother's sewing box), my father did not have a certificate or diploma to his name.

When, on the year of his premature retirement, he was awarded the MBE for his selfless work for the Union of Post Office Workers, it was the proudest day of his life. Sadly, tropical warfare had taken its toll: he did not live to receive the honour in person from the Queen.

London, W9

Sir; Would someone please explain to Johann Hari that the Queen reigns, she does not rule? And that the key to feudalism is reciprocity rather than oppression?

No one in this century would devise a monarchical system, but while we have one - along with European exemplars such as the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden - the case for keeping it is stronger than Hari's callow rationalism would indicate. British troops in Basra, for example, are soldiers for the Crown, not Tony Blair: it is a useful distinction.

The honours system no longer honours the hereditary principle, and recipients are not deemed to be supporters of the Government, or even of the monarchy. Hari seeks a national glue: how about the Queen's conscientiousness? Or the notable elasticity of modern British society? British nationalism is not "inherently right-wing".

Are republics - France, the United States, Switzerland, Ireland and the rest - so obviously better or less venal? News to me.

Hastings, East Sussex

Sir: I refer to your well-aimed observations about the discredited honours system (leading article, 31 December). The system fails in other ways.

For some years our community sought an award for a woman who had worked for our elderly, entirely unpaid, for 25 years, averaging between three and four days per week. Her outstanding contribution went unrecognised. In the end our newly formed Parish Council took matters into its own hands when this astonishing woman, then aged 76, became the first recipient of the Myland Order of Merit.

I hope other communities have found similar ways to recognise outstanding service which is ignored by the authorities.

Myland, Colchester, Essex

Small print

Sir: Your article last Saturday (27 December) on insurance for long-term care suggested that those in need are not addressing the problem and doing nothing about it.

About seven years ago, in our healthy early sixties, we did do something. We made conscientious enquiries of various high-profile organisations offering just the answer; and by and large it seemed to be a good idea. Spend quite a big one-off sum; problem solved, rest of money available for whatever. Let's do it.

Then we read the small print. Organisation after organisation basically reserved the right to move the goalposts wherever and whenever they wanted; not only that but effectively they decided if and when you needed care and there was no argument. Didn't seem such a good deal, so we never did anything.

Your article seems to confirm that these conditions really have been applied. Perhaps we of vulnerable age would do something, but only if we could buy a straightforward product.

Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire

Missing medicine

Sir: Robert Fisk's article (30 December) on the possible culpability of British armed forces for non-delivery of medical supplies earlier this year fails to acknowledge the humanitarian efforts of many coalition personnel - on and off duty - while on active service in Iraq.

While the issue of the MAIC consignment is a matter of concern, it should also be mentioned that the delivery of aid to countries in a state of conflict cannot be guaranteed while the area is is in turmoil or where looting is prevalent.

Colonel Carmichael's letter does not refer to British troops permitting looting, but it does suggest that coalition forces had their work cut out limiting the damage being done by those taking advantage of the "insecure and challenging environment".

Perhaps in this instance, the officers named in the article should be commended for doing their utmost to distribute the supplies. Even if the full consignment could not be accounted for, the amount of aid that has gone through Basra has to be near the billions - are we to be horrified at such a tiny percentage purportedly going missing when so much else has been achieved?

Ilford, Essex

Sir: The invasion of Iraq has dealt the cause of democracy in the Middle East a mortal blow.

Hitherto the people in the Middle East were facing the Israeli occupation and humiliation of the Palestinians as well as oppression by their own corrupt governments. The fight for democracy and pluralism has been the hallmark of the struggle of progressive forces in numerous Arab and Muslim countries. These forces have always had to face the contradiction between their desire for a Western-style democracy and the fact that the same West, especially the United States, is an unwavering supporter of Israeli oppression.

The invasion of Iraq has virtually disarmed all the truly democratic forces in the Arab world. The Arab masses hate their ruling cliques and identify with the suffering of the Palestinian and the Iraqi peoples. They are appalled by the ever-stronger bias of the American administration in support of the right-wing government in Israel. The people cannot unite in support of democracy when the "democracy" on offer means supporting the Apartheid Wall and submitting to a condescending attitude towards the Arabs, their cultures and their values.

London SW19

Relative poverty

Sir: Michael Howard says: "I do not believe that one person's poverty is caused by another's wealth." No, not caused, but defined.

Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Shooting burglars

Sir: Clearly Stephen Pound MP has never suffered a burglary himself, with family heirlooms either stolen or wilfully smashed by criminal intruders, and human excreta smeared everywhere. If he had done he might better appreciate the feelings of those Today programme poll voters he is so ready to brand as "bastards", who are guilty of wanting to defend their homes by all means possible.

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

A minute for spam

Sir: I think the time it takes for businesses to deal with spam is exaggerated. It shouldn't take an hour of employees' time (report, 29 December). There are rules for telling the computer what words in subject lines and what senders should go straight to the delete box. At say 50 spams a day, which I get on a non-business basis, that will delete about 90 per cent. About 30 seconds are needed to delete the 10 per cent which get through, and about the same time or less to empty the delete box.One minute, not one hour !

Stevenage, Hertfordshire

Chimes at 23.59

Sir: Polly Fallows is right to say that midnight can be either a.m. or p.m. (letter, 2 January). There is, though, a problem with the 24-hour clock. Is midnight 24.00 or 00.00? Anyone who served in the armed forces will recall that our leave passes avoided this dilemma by always expiring at 23.59 hours - one minute to midnight.

Bedworth, Warwickshire