Letters: Corbyn’s thoughtful response on shoot-to-kill

The following letters appear in the 19 November edition of The Independent

Independent Voices
Wednesday 18 November 2015 18:49
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on ITV1's Lorraine programme
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on ITV1's Lorraine programme

Matthew Norman (18 November) says of Jeremy Corbyn: “This week, sad to say, he speaks for almost no one but himself.” If that is the case, one can only fear for the future of this country.

Mr Corbyn was answering a question about a “shoot-to-kill” response by police faced with events like those in Paris. The Labour leader has given thoughtful replies to questions that are speculative and obscure, probably designed to elicit a response that the populist media can attack.

There has been no knee-jerk reaction, but rather an attempt to see what can be done to alleviate a situation that, if dealt with in the manner of Tony Blair, might lead to further catastrophic events.

Rather than meet him on his own terms, the press are concerned about the depth of his bow at the Cenotaph, whether he has spoken soon enough about atrocities and whether his words have been sufficiently bellicose.

If it is a choice between the Blair/Cameron rush to war and the attempt to find a peaceful and lasting solution, I come down on the side of Corbyn.

Larry Johnston

Modrydd, Brecon

Matthew Norman regrets Jeremy Corbyn’s detachment. As a journalist he should value it.

Touchy-feely politicians catering for an emotional public have helped create the problems we now have with terrorists. What we need are more detached politicians who think through the possible courses of action to find the one that will be effective.

Pandering to populism got us into this mess. We need thoughtful statesmen to get us out of it.

Jon Hawksley

London EC1

I have heard loud and abusive, reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion that he does not wholeheartedly endorse “shoot-to-kill” on British streets in situations where terrorist activity is suspected. Have they forgotten that the civil war in Northern Ireland was triggered by “shoot-to-kill” when civilians were gunned down in 1972 by paratroopers “policing” a peaceful civil rights march?

Police and soldiers who have wrongly shot and killed civilians say that they had to make a “split-second” decision. That is exactly why the conversation should be had at a thoughtful level. It would be too late after a declared state of emergency, when the authorities get carte blanche to act without scrutiny, and the public are not in a mood to hold them to account.

In the rush by politicians to sound macho, the danger pointed up by Corbyn, of escalating gun wars in British cities, is a real one. When, as will inevitably happen, there are repeats of the Jean Charles de Menezes killing, communities are bound to protest. Will the police then shoot at protesters? Frightened people can act irrationally, stupidly and cruelly. The police and army are no exception.

As Corbyn pointed out, different levels of response are appropriate in different situations. “Shoot-to-kill” should be a response of last, not of first, resort, and used only in circumstances where it will prevent imminent murder. Wherever possible, suspects should be captured alive. This is the difference between policing and civil warfare.

Sally Griffin


The current “shoot-to-kill” debate is wholly insincere. The question is not whether the police should be asked to shoot to wound when they are being attacked. At the point when an officer opens fire they shoot to hit the target, and death is then always a real possibility.

So-called “shoot to kill”, as with the deaths of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar in the late 1980s, is actually a policy of allowing the police to open fire first, a pre-emptive pragmatic assassination intended to prevent criminal harm before it occurs.

Of course there are circumstances in which that will be the least bad option, but it remains a policy full of ethical and political dangers. At its worst, it gives the state a licence for extra-judicial execution, permission to abandon all the painstakingly wrought structure of civil rights for the individual. It abandons the possibility of justice being seen to be done, and denies the possibility of gathering further intelligence.

“Shoot to kill” is the very antithesis of the free society: democratic politicians should contemplate it with fear and trembling, because it represents the collapse of all we hold dear.

Fr Tim Jones

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

If the only way to defeat an enemy is to sink to deeper depravity than theirs, moral justification goes out of the window

I read Mike Galvin’s letter (“Time to question the nuclear taboo?”, 17 November) several times, trying to find the irony, but in vain. He appears to mean it. Assuming he does, there are several ways to argue that nuking Isis is neither justified nor “our best frontline option” as he claims.

These include: the sheer hideous destruction and aftermath for humanity as a whole (Scientists for Global Responsibility have set this out) and the likelihood of escalation to apocalypse (Pakistan has nuclear weapons).

But the overriding one, for me, is that, if the only way to defeat an enemy as vile as Isis is to sink to deeper depravity than theirs, any moral justification we had has gone out of the window. Some taboos are there for good reasons.

Maybe I was mistaken: I’ll have one more try at finding the irony.

Sue Gilmurray


Hugh Pennington asked (letter, 18 November) whether Isis would hesitate to use a nuclear weapon if they had one, and rightly says that they wouldn’t. But how does he think that us having a nuclear deterrent would stop them?

They do not care if we drop a nuclear bomb and kill thousands of innocent people; their leadership would be long gone before we retaliated, their dupes would be on the way to paradise, and the resultant destruction of civilian life would be a great recruitment aid.

Michael Wood

Thornton, Lancashire

Benefits and suicides

As a retired consultant psychiatrist, I read your leading article (18 November) on recent research linking suicide to unsuccessful applications for benefits from the DWP.

I can attest that identifying actively suicidal people in high-risk groups can present problems even for mental health professionals. I am also familiar with people who have few symptoms of mental illness, who nevertheless convince their doctors that they’re too “stressed” to work.

I think that what Iain Duncan Smith and his Government should feel ashamed about is the lack of assessment and treatment facilities for mental illness. The DWP should have access to this level of expertise when deciding on the ability to work. Blaming the DWP for making decisions without access to competent mental health assessments is making it a scapegoat for the Government’s lack of mental health funding.

Angus McPherson

Findon, West Sussex

Can’t put a price on the wonder of nature

I share George Monbiot’s concern about attempts by some to “put a price on nature” by introducing financial tools such as “biodiversity offsetting” and by monetising ecosystem services (Nature Studies, 17 November). The term “ecosystem services” presumes that natural systems and processes can be quantified merely by the extent with which they provide a service to Homo Sapiens.

These metrics can be useful in the proper context; but reducing the living world to its monetary value runs the risk of diminishing its intrinsic value, one that cannot be quantified. I think most people would agree that they aren’t moved to protect the living world because of what it will do to their bank account; they care about it because of love, wonder, and beauty.

Mark Bessoudo


The Independent’s article on poaching and wildlife crime was shocking (“Behaving like wild animals”, 17 November). However, those who hurt and kill wild animals aren’t just random sadists or inner-city thugs.

The RSPB looked at the profession of people convicted of crimes against birds of prey in the 20-year period from 1990. Of 141 convicted, 98 were involved in game bird management (95 gamekeepers, two shooters, one “game bird” dealer).

For as long as the mass-production and shooting of game birds for “sport” is not only legal but avidly promoted, then thousands of wild animals and birds per year (deemed to interfere with the short-term survival of pheasants and partridges), face being trapped, snared or shot.

Fiona Pereira

Animal Aid, Tonbridge, Kent

Hitler beastly to Noel Coward

Geoffrey McNab’s feature on “The Master and the model” (18 November) contained one jarring anomaly.

Adolf Hitler put Noel Coward on his hit list because of, not in spite of, his song “Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans”. The clue is in the second line: “`When our victory is ultimately won”.`

Tony Powell


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