Lawyer 24th May 2013

I trot round the park today and listen to the Navy lark. I Oh dear, oh dear
Sub-lieutenatn Leslie Philips is up for promotion. He is turned down and dreams of being Nelson with Wren Chasen as Lady Hamilton Priceless.
A quiet day off out to the see our lawyer about Mary’s will. Such an exhausting business.
I win at Scrabble today, just and gets just under 400, Mary might get herrevenge tomorrow, I hope.


Thomas Messer
Thomas Messer, who has died aged 93, was the director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York who succeeded in swiping one of the finest collections of modern art from under the nose of the Tate Gallery.

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The collection belonged to Peggy Guggenheim who, despite being a poor relation of the family, built up a fabulous collection of art by such figures as de Chirico, Picasso, Giacometti, Dali, Braque, Klee, Miro and Mondrian as well as works by American Abstract Expressionists including her “discovery”, Jackson Pollock. From the 1920s Peggy Guggenheim spent much of her life in Europe, where she is said to have slept with 1,000 men. Gore Vidal described her as “the last of Henry James’s transatlantic heroines: Daisy Miller with rather more balls’’.
The Tate blotted its copybook with Peggy Guggenheim in 1938 when its then director, JB Manson, certified that some sculptures which she wanted to show at a gallery she had opened in Cork Street were not art at all. Works by Arp, Calder, Brancusi and Moore were, he pronounced, “all the sort of stuff I should like to keep out’’. As a result of his intervention, British customs would not let them into the country. In 1949 Peggy Guggenheim took herself and her collection to Venice, where she lived until her death in 1979.
Despite the pre-war setback Sir Norman Reid, who became director of the Tate in 1964, entertained hopes of persuading her to leave her collection to the gallery, and in 1965 she accompanied it to London for an exhibition. A formal dinner was held in her honour and she was wined and dined by the Establishment. By the beginning of 1966 Reid was confident enough of victory to inform his trustees that she had made a new will leaving her collection to the gallery.
There were other good reasons for his optimism. The Solomon Guggenheim who founded the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where Messer became director in 1961, was Peggy’s uncle (her father had gone down with the Titanic), but she had had a miserable childhood and felt stifled by all her wealthy relations. After leaving for Europe aged 22, she returned to the United States very rarely. In her autobiography she wrote disparagingly of the family museum, a reinforced concrete spiral designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, describing it as “a huge garage’’.
Yet at the same time that the Tate was raising its hopes, she was secretly negotiating with the Guggenheim. Her main requirement was that her collection should be kept together, preferably at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, her home on the Grand Canal which had opened to the public as a museum in 1951.
It was the diplomatic Messer who handled the gallery’s negotiations with Peggy, making many trips to Venice in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1969 he secured her agreement to an exhibition of a selection of Cubist, Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist works from her collection at the New York museum. The show was a huge success and she reportedly agreed to leave the museum her entire collection — only to change her mind a few months later, when she announced that she would be leaving it to the Commune of Venice.
Matters remained unresolved until 1976, during which time several factors played in Messer’s favour. In the early 1970s Peggy Guggenheim had paid $60,000 for a canvas which turned out to be a fake, a mistake she blamed on the Tate whose advice she had sought (though she bought the canvas before reading the Tate’s report). However, it was said that the Tate’s chances were finally scuppered when, on a trip to Britain, she was stopped at the border and informed that her beloved dogs would have to go into quarantine. Meanwhile, the offer to the Commune of Venice was withdrawn when she was presented with a bill for donor’s tax.
At the same time Messer’s mittel-European charm was having its effect on the ageing art connoisseur. “I once wrote her: ‘Why is it when I am with you, you are so nice and sweet and then I get such awful letters?’” he recalled. “Then for a while, she addressed her letters to ‘Dear Tom, Sweet Tom’.”
Messer claimed that in the end he really did become fond of the famously difficult old lady, “and the reason I did was she was eternally feminine”. Within days of her death in December 1979 he travelled to Venice to see about safeguarding her legacy, and in April the following year her collection officially reopened under the direction of the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, in a palazzo which had been almost completely swept clean of its former owner’s presence.
Messer’s victory over the Tate strengthened the Guggenheim’s holdings and gave the museum its first outpost outside the United States. Since then, the foundation has opened museums in Bilbao and Berlin, and is now planning a Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi.
Thomas Maria Messer was born in Bratislava, in what is now Slovakia, on February 9 1920. His father was an art historian and a professor of German; his mother came from a family of musicians.
Despite his artistic background, Thomas studied Chemistry, first in Prague and later at Thiel College in Pennsylvania. On September 2 1939 he had embarked at Liverpool on the Athenia, bound for Montreal. The next day Britain declared war on Germany, and within hours the Athenia had been torpedoed by a German U-boat. All but 119 of the 1,418 on board were rescued. Messer subsequently crossed over to America on another ship.
Messer soon abandoned chemistry for modern languages, studying at Boston University, and after America joined the war served in Europe as an interrogator for military intelligence. After the war he studied Art at the Sorbonne.
Returning to the United States, Messer took a master’s degree in Art History from Harvard. Before his appointment at the Guggenheim in 1961, he was director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
He became director of the Guggenheim just two years after it had moved into its new Frank Lloyd Wright spiral building on Fifth Avenue. His predecessor, John Sweeney, had left after disagreements with the architect and the board, and when Messer arrived things were in disarray. As well as repairing relations with the board, he had to build a professional staff and find ways to overcome the practical difficulties of a building which Messer himself described as having “the circular geography of hell”, where any vertical object appeared tilted in a “drunken lurch”.
He took a huge risk in 1962 when he put on an exhibition of large sculptures from the Hirshhorn collection. But in fact he had taken the precaution of staging a smaller sculpture exhibition shortly after his arrival, when he discovered how to compensate for the building’s geometry by constructing special plinths at an angle, so that the pieces were not vertical yet appeared to be so. The result was considered a triumph.
Messer remained the gallery’s director for 27 years, during which time he greatly expanded the collection and established its international reputation. As well as the Peggy Guggenheim collection, in 1963 he persuaded the German collector Justin Thannhauser to present a significant portion of his collection, including dozens of Impressionist, Post Impressionist and early modern works, to the Guggenheim on permanent loan. The two men had become friends by chance in the 1950s when Thannhauser heard Messer playing Beethoven through the open windows of his apartment on 67th Street. When Thannhauser died in 1976, the paintings on loan became part of the Guggenheim’s permanent collection.
Thomas Messer’s wife, Remedios, died in 2002. There were no children.
Thomas Messer, born February 9 1920, died May 15 2013


Regarding your article (Flooding threatens £250bn worth of homes as cutbacks weaken defences, 18 May), it is worth noting that while around 500,000 properties in London are in the floodplain, over 80% of these are at low risk of flooding thanks to the world-class protection afforded by the Thames Barrier and its associated flood defences. We are spending over £20m this year maintaining and improving defences to ensure that homes and businesses in London continue to be well protected.
David Jordan
Director of operations, Environment Agency
• So Pope Francis has stated that atheists can be seen as good people if they do good (Report, 23 May). Perhaps the next great leap for the Vatican is to realise that Catholics who do evil are evil.
Dr Colin Bannon
Crapstone, Devon
• Terry Cook in St Albans just hasn’t looked in the right place for English asparagus (Letters, 21 May) It has been on sale for two weeks in a certain Italian deli. Next stop – the market … Better start saving up, though!
Jill Bennett
St Albans, Hertfordshire
• Perhaps Steve Bell should stop putting a condom on the prime minister and put one on the mayor of London (Public has a right to know about Johnson’s affair, 22 May).
Tony Cole
• Are civil servants or executives ever invited to appear before select committees, or is there a constitutional requirement that they be “hauled” (Letters, 23 May)?
D Stockley
Reigate, Surrey
• Has anyone ever been accused of displaying a roundhead attitude?
John Jepson
Driffield, East Yorkshire
• I disagree with Isabella Stone (Letters, 22 May); you should carry on with these letters until you have had literally hundreds of them.
Alex Harris
Surbiton, Surrey

Len McCluskey denies any “breach of party rules” over his union’s strategy in seeking to influence Labour party panel selections (Mandelson’s argument is about politics not procedure, 21 May). He insists: “Unite’s aim is simple – to recruit members to the party and then encourage them to endorse union-supported candidates in one-member, one-vote selections.”
But perhaps McCluskey forgets that the integrity of Labour’s modern constitution is underwritten in the 1997 election-winning manifesto, which affirmed: “We have changed the way we make policy, and put our relations with the trade unions on a modern footing where they accept they can get fairness but no favours from a Labour government. Our MPs are all now selected by ordinary party members, not small committees or pressure groups.”
It is also significant that this was the first party manifesto to have been pre-ratified, under OMOV, by its then record 400,000 members. At the same time, the party rule book was updated to ensure union affiliates agreed to “accept the programme, policy and principles of the party”. This same obligation was placed on individual members, together with new restrictions on the operation of “factions” within the party.
I am sure McCluskey well knows that these “procedures” were introduced in order to avoid a repeat of the Militant-style entryism which almost destroyed our party during the 80s. It is precisely for this reason that the behaviour of parties-within-a-party (surely) has to be subjected to the closest scrutiny. It is the prime responsibility of Labour’s ruling national executive committee to provide a strategic direction for the party as a whole. It is they who will now presumably decide what constitutional implications exist, if any, for McCluskey’s version of local bloc voting.
Mike Allott
Eastleigh, Hampshire
• Perhaps Progress should be flattered by Len McCluskey’s ongoing attention, but perspective is required. We understand it is daunting, difficult and time-consuming for people putting themselves forward for parliamentary selection, particularly when they don’t come from the political class of advisers or full-time union officials. That is why our work around selections, overseen by our elected strategy board, remains focused on helping members, trade unionists and councillors across the country to understand Labour’s complicated process.
With our annual budget, just a fraction of Unite’s political fund, I struggle to understand how Progress shining a spotlight on the process and opening opportunities up to grassroots members is so threatening for Len McCluskey. Progress prefers an open and inclusive approach. At our recent annual conference featuring Peter Mandelson, we also welcomed the contribution of Steve Hart, political director of Unite, in a breakout session focused on delivering more people from working-class and other under-represented backgrounds into parliament.
Wherever people sit in the broad church of the Labour party, our collective goal must be to help Ed Miliband transform Britain. The principle underpins Progress’s new Campaign for a Labour Majority and, whatever our other differences with Len McCluskey, I hope we can all unite around that.
Robert Philpot
Director, Progress

As a practising member of the criminal bar, I am horrified at the proposed changes to the provision of legal aid, currently undergoing a so called “consultation period” by the Ministry of Justice (Editorial, 22 May), albeit the justice minister refuses to meet the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association. It is clear that the truncated consultation period is no more than window dressing. Chris Grayling is disinterested in any contribution from the profession. It is beyond doubt that the tendering out of legal aid to private business will herald a decline in standards in a legal system that has been a model of justice for centuries. There is no provision whatsoever in the proposals to ensure standards are maintained when individuals are unable to choose their representation. Once in possession of a contract, a company’s clients will be guaranteed, irrespective of the quality of service. The idea that this service would be properly provided by employees of a profit-driven company, whose lowest bid has rewarded them with the responsibility for the representation of citizens accused of crime by the state, is dubious. The prospect that the same company could be responsible for housing prisoners, transporting them, and representing them is, frankly, Orwellian.
Rebecca Herbert
East Langton, Leicestershire
• You report dissidents in Iran “have been denied adequate legal representation” (22 May). In the UK we are a long way from Iran’s repressive regime, but the present government’s proposals on reforming legal aid to allow Eddie Stobart and the like to turn a profit by supplying third-rate representation to people who are (to use Grayling’s analysis) “too thick to know better”, will have us catching up with the regime in Tehran in no time. Whatever one’s view of defence lawyers, the importance of ensuring that only those proved to the satisfaction of their peers are found guilty, is a matter of social, democratic and constitutional importance to us all.
Ben Summers
Legal aid barrister, London

The savage killing of a British soldier in Woolwich has to be condemned without reservation by all Muslims (Report, 23 May). This murder fills us with revulsion, and our heartfelt condolences are extended to the victim’s family.
Last week, the British Muslim community was in the spotlight with the conviction of a child sex abuse gang in Oxford (Report, 15 May). This week, two misguided Muslims – new converts to Islam – have brought further opprobrium to practising Muslims. This terrible scourge of child abuse and terrorism within some strains of British Islam is sadly reflective of the broader incapacity of the Muslim community to fully integrate with the general mainstream. British Muslims must disassociate themselves from all variants of imported religious fundamentalism so that far-right organisations cannot exploit burgeoning social tensions in the UK.
However, there are underlying reasons behind the Woolwich brutality. There is a clear correlation between Tony Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq and the emergence of Muslim terrorism in the UK. Before the UK embarked upon non-UN sanctioned intervention in the Middle East, there was no Muslim violent extremism here. This in no way condones the despicable deeds of two opportunistic converts to Islamic fundamentalism, but Labour’s former leaders must be held accountable for dragging this country into needless US-inspired foreign adventures. They are partly responsible for providing Muslim militants with their conveniently toxic propaganda. It is time that the UK addressed the roots of Islamic terrorism instead of focusing just on its contemptible results.
Dr T Hargey
Imam, Oxford Muslim Congregation
• Although it is too early to say whether the terrorists who killed the British soldier are nation-centric or al-Qaida-centric, there is no denying that lack of integration incubates both. Nation-centric groups (Kashmiri militants, Sikh separatists, etc) invoke religion as a mean to win public support, while al-Qaida-centric ones are driven by it. Both groups, however, kill innocent people to achieve their aim.
Britain is home to a large number of religious minorities, some of which are more fully integrated than others. Those who find integration painful tend to find solace in political radicalisation. Unless Britain places integration at the centre of its immigration policies, it is difficult to see how such radicalisation of religious minorities can possibly be pre-empted.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex
• As a long-time reader of the Guardian I have appreciated your position as the moderate, well-informed and liberalist alternative to the excesses and ignorance of many other newspaper offerings. However I must complain about your front page (23 May). The headline, “You people will never be safe”, may be an accurate quotation, it may be newsworthy and eyecatching, but it is also a shameful misuse of your influence in the current climate. You know the Islamophobia that is being used to justify hate crimes across the globe. This would have been an inappropriate front page for a tabloid; for the Guardian it is reprehensible. Read the comments it has prompted on social media networks – you have gravely offended your readers.
Dr Samantha Pegg
Senior lecturer, Law School, Nottingham Trent University
• Twenty years ago, also in south London, another man was stabbed to death for “what”, rather than who he was. No media nor public outrage immediately followed, nor did the full weight of the state swing so dramatically into action – quite the opposite, in fact, as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry was years later to document. Moreover, on the day of the killing in Woolwich, Julie Bindel called for an inquiry into why victims of domestic violence – two women a week killed in England and Wales – are not getting sufficient protection. None of these cases are direct equivalents – but the differential responses to each of them are, sadly, all too telling about state, institutional and societal priorities.
Steve Tombs
Professor of criminology, Faculty of Social Sciences, the Open University
• No amount of condemnation can hide the fact that in Woolwich the blood of the innocent was shed in the name of Allah. If Muslims want to live in the UK it is incumbent upon us to take responsibility for how the Qur’an is being interpreted and taught to British Muslims. Likewise, those of us who find it hard to reconcile with the British way of life have the choice of moving to the lands where sharia supposedly rules. But please, no more butchering of human beings in the name of Allah on British soil.
MA Qavi
• A soldier is murdered and our leaders react with “keep calm and carry on”. Carry on with the drone attacks which kill indiscriminately. Carry on with the collateral damage of criminal allied actions against wedding parties and families mistaken for insurgents. Carry on with the politically blind foreign policies that put us all in mortal danger. David Cameron has no intention of ending reckless militarism, but until he does, these atrocities will continue to threaten our nation.
Bruce Whitehead
• Mohsin Hamid expressed the sentiments I have for years been urging my Muslim students to include in letters to editors (‘Islam is not a monolith’, G2, 20 May). I teach PR and journalism and continually stress the importance of standing up publicly for Islam. Hamid has done this beautifully. The radical fanatics who do so much damage are thankfully a minority, but how many Muslims are pointing this out? So far my students have regrettably been reluctant to champion their religion. Such silence contributes to the rise of Islamophobia. Only if more people follow Hamid’s example can there be any hope of Islam being regarded in a better light.
Jane Hammond
Rochester, Kent

Tim Radford (Lost in space, G2, 21 May) repeats the story that the astronomer royal, Sir Richard Woolley, had described space travel as “utter bilge”, implying a lack of vision on behalf of the British establishment. I met Woolley when he came to talk to Liverpool University’s Astronomical Society soon after the Apollo moon missions and asked him his views on space travel. He held to the same opinion, as he said he was talking about interstellar and intergalactic travel, which had been all the rage in science fiction circles in 1956. Given the enormous distances involved, the time for a journey could be measured in lifetimes, not years. To go to the moon is (only) a quarter of a million miles, whereas just writing down the distance to the stars would involve so many zeros that the editor would not allow this letter into the paper. Writing the distance to the furthest galaxies would require most of the paper to be filled with zeros. “Utter bilge” is a reasonable description of such flights of fancy.
Frank Large



The blood of the innocent shed in Woolwich calls for a high-level inquiry into how the Koran is being interpreted and taught in British mosques and madrassahs, and the links most of our mosques have with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
What happened in Woolwich is in line with what Salafi zealots have been doing in Syria and Pakistan to other Muslims who do not share their bleak view of the Creator.
M A Qavi, London SE3
Words struggle to describe the deep anger at this cowardly attack on our off-duty soldier. This has been an attack on every one of us and the nation stands united in its abhorrence and disgust.
But hard lessons need to be learnt about who knew of the radical ideology of these thugs. It is alleged that at least one of them was known for overtly jihadist views, so we need to know whether pre-emptive action could have been taken by the security agencies.
This attack has also exposed the blatant failure of the UK’s Muslim organisations and previous governments’ complacent attitude in cosying up to them. I have not seen any UK Muslim group or educational institution confront, in a structured and comprehensive manner, this pernicious anti-UK propaganda, rife among converts in social circles, schools, higher-education institutes, prisons, etc.
UK Muslim youth needs to be taught the fundamental democratic values of Britain and its core national ethos, together with patriotism. When it comes to the internal security of this country, every Muslim youth should be a soldier and a watchful guard.
And Muslim youth also needs to be taught that members of our armed forces heroically fulfill the tasks entrusted to them, and that foreign policy is an expression of our national interests, which can be changed through national consensus, civic efforts and legitimate lobbying.
Dr Lu’ayy Minwer Al-Rimawi, Co-Director, Master’s Programme in Islamic Financial & Business Law, BPP University College, London WC1
The savage killing of the soldier has to be condemned without reservation by all Muslims. This monstrous act fills us with utter revulsion, and our heartfelt condolences are extended to the victim’s family.
Last week, the British Muslim community was in the spotlight with the conviction of a sadistic Muslim paedophile gang in Oxford. This week, two misguided Muslims, most significantly new converts to Islam, have brought further opprobrium to practising Muslims in the UK.
These terrible scourges of paedophilia and terrorism within some strains of British Islam are sadly reflective of the broader incapacity of the Muslim community to fully integrate with the mainstream. If UK Muslims were genuine and effective stakeholders in British society, the ideological drivers that fuel immoral sexuality as well as bloody terrorism would be inhibited, if not eradicated.
British Muslims must disassociate themselves from all variants of imported religious fundamentalism so that fascist groups and far-right organisations cannot exploit burgeoning social tensions in the UK.
But there are also unpalatable, underlying reasons behind the Woolwich brutality. There is a clear correlation between Tony Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq a decade ago and the emergence of Muslim terrorism in the UK. This in no way condones this despicable deed, but Labour’s former leaders must be held accountable for dragging this country into needless, US-inspired foreign adventures.
They are partly responsible for providing Muslim militants, here and abroad, with their toxic propaganda. It is high time that the UK honestly addresses the roots of Islamic terrorism instead of focusing just on its contemptible results.
Dr T Hargey, Imam, Oxford Muslim Congregation, Oxford
There appears to be confusion among the British Muslim communities over the horrific episode in Woolwich. A segment of the British Muslim communities suggests that Muslims ought not to show their feelings of disgust about this cowardly attack.
They believe such outward expression of condemnation amounts to apologising and could be viewed as acceptance that it is Islam that preaches such acts of violence.
I suggest an alternative view to the community to which I belong. Any public condemnation of this or similar acts only highlights the feelings of solidarity British Muslims hold with the victims and is a show of defiance to the radical ideologists who try to hijack their religion to further their agenda of hatred and division.
Muslims and non-Muslims alike should stand shoulder to shoulder in sending such unified messages to the preachers and perpetrators of hate within our communities.
Dr Shaaz Mahboob, Uxbridge, Middlesex
I am a teacher at an Islamic faith school in Birmingham and involved in a local neighbourhood forum. I felt compelled to write to you to plead that you give us (the Muslim community) a voice to utterly condemn this horrific event.
Please help us to give a loud, clear and unequivocal response to this criminal act. This is an act of madmen: nothing in this can be associated with Islam.
We Muslims need to reassure our fellow British citizens that we stand with them against all forms of extremism, terrorism and acts of treason.
Kashif May, Head of RE and Behaviour, Al-Furqan Community College, Birmingham
Gay marriage law unfair to single people
The special concessions given to homosexuals are extremely unfair. Marriage and civil partnership give people the right to transfer property between them without inheritance tax and to draw on the spouse’s pension entitlements.
Why should these benefits be denied to single people, now the majority of the population? What is so special about homosexual sex that it qualifies for exemption from tax and extra pension benefits?
Many people share their lives with others but cannot marry them. Sisters who live together, relatives who may be dependent on each other, people in complex relationships which preclude marriage; all of these people would very much like the privileges which are being accorded to homosexuals.
If gays are to get these tax breaks, then everyone in society should be able to gift their property freely to someone they love.
But the liberal elite have made gay marriage a badge of their international club membership. If someone in the Netherlands does it, then so must Obama, Cameron and their pals. It’s infuriating and deeply unjust.
Heterosexual married couples are raising the next generation. It’s a tough job and I accept that they deserve support from the state. But anyone can have sex; you don’t have to be given tax breaks to get that together.
Jane Hayter-Hames, Oxford
Opponents of gay marriage, with Biblical backing, claim it will devalue straight marriage. What I and my partner want to know is: could gay marriage devalue civil partnership?
Peter Forster, London N4
GPs let down my dying mother
How I sympathise with Jane Merrick (“I wish my child hadn’t got ill at the weekend”, 22 May). My mother died last year having been seen by four doctors at her own practice, all of them missing the cancer that was widespread through her body and killed her a few days after I had no choice but to take her to A&E.
Her own doctor, writing to me weeks after I had sent him a letter outlining my disappointment and anger, said: “I have not been involved in your mother’s care from the beginning as she was seen by other doctors in the practice.” Point made.
Name and address supplied
If police, ambulance and firefighters can all work nightshifts and weekends, why can’t all the vastly higher-paid GPs?
Dai Woosnam, Grimsby
Many fear a frugal retirement
I’m delighted for Carolyn Slater, reading her IEA reports in Tuscany (letters, 21 May). Personally, I would choose France over Italy, but I have no doubt that retirement for her is wonderful, and that there are many such people around who, either as the result of a great company pension fund, thoughtful property purchase, or constant prudence in their financial affairs, succeed in having the retirement they planned and worked for at an age where they can appreciate it.
But I’m certain there are also very many others looking at a frugal retirement where they must work beyond the age they wish, due a poorly performing, or non-existent, pension fund. They will consider themselves lucky to have paid the mortgage off on their (average) property by the time they receive their (fixed) state pension, hopefully at 65 or 67 but who knows, with the proposed five-yearly review, possibly at 70. There will be more again who won’t manage even that.
Both quantity (in terms of time) and quality (financial comfort) are important for a happy retirement. Perhaps, in repeatedly raising the age at which the state pension becomes payable, governments have in mind that some of us won’t be around to draw it. Now, there’s a good way to pay off the deficit.
Lesley Wilson, Pontypridd, South Wales
No bribery
Your article “BBC offers staff £24m ‘bribes’ for move to Salford” (15 May) implied that the BBC had offered “bribes” to staff to induce them to move to the North of England. Staff were not “bribed” to move and at no point did the National Audit Office say that the BBC had done anything improper in terms of the relocation packages offered to staff.
Peter Salmon, Director, BBC North, Salford
It’s just Chance
What qualifies the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be in charge of environmental and energy policy (“Switch to low-carbon future”, 23 May)? For that matter, what qualifies someone with no background in economics or finance to be Chancellor of the Exchequer?
David Gibbs, London SW4


In the age of the phone camera and cyberspace every citizen caught up in a drama, horrific or otherwise, becomes a journalist
Sir, The Woolwich attack (reports, May 23) was undoubtedly terrifying. But it’s still very unclear whether it was carried out by ideologically inspired “terrorists” or by mentally disturbed individuals. Moreover, the impact of the attack is greatly heightened by the intensive rolling 24-hour news coverage and the urgent tones in which news reports are delivered, and by the PM’s decision to clear his diary and convene Cobra. So much for the old mantra about “life going on as normal” in the face of such events.
John McIntosh
Sir, Two aspiring terrorists butcher an innocent man in London in broad daylight and then wait around for the police to turn up, encouraging witnesses to photograph them.
They appear on mainstream TV news covered in blood and wielding knives providing coverage that will doubtless be seen around the world.
The British Prime Minister cuts short a visit with the French President to fly home to manage the crisis.
Terrorists 2, Great Britain 0.
Derek Smith
Amersham, Bucks
Sir, The slaughter of a British soldier in Woolwich was barbaric, but it was also news: shocking and revolting, but news nonetheless. Which makes the criticisms from some quarters over newspapers and broadcasters carrying the images of the crime and its crowing perpetrators all the more wrong-headed.
In the age of the phone camera and cyberspace every citizen caught up in a drama, horrific or otherwise, becomes a journalist. Self-censorship by the mainstream media becomes futile too and it is increasingly unrealistic in the era of social media.
Whatever the answers to the many questions this incident raises, failing to publish the terrible truth would be counter-productive — just as it would be wrong, in our shock, grief and anger, to fail to celebrate those courageous women who confronted the attackers and went to help their victim. Ultimately this terrible story reflects both the horror of fanatical hatred and the ordinary people of Woolwich as citizen heroes.
Paul Connew
Media consultant, St Albans
Sir, This incident proves that there is no let-up in the radicalisation of British Muslims. The murder reflects a huge policy failure on the part of successive governments to harness Britain’s growing religious diversity to its core Christian identity. In addition to mosques and temples, non-English-speaking Muslim and Sikh radio and TV channels now contribute to consolidating parallel communal identities.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex
Sir, Whether or not foreign policy is a cause of sectarian division in the UK, British forces have come to the aid of Muslims in Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo. This is generally not known or appreciated by the Muslim community in the UK because of the failure of successive governments to understand the importance of making this widely known among our Muslim neighbours.
Lord Kilclooney
House of Lords

After years of lawful assisted dying in other jurisdictions, why should we not consider this choice of approach in England and Wales?
Sir, In your leading article (May 18) you provided two reasons for opposing a change in the law to allow assisted suicide. The first was that it might lead to an increase in assisted suicides, and the second, that it might also lead to an increase in the number of prosecutions for assisting suicide.
In Oregon, after 15 years of lawful assisted dying, the incidence of assisted dying deaths has only increased from 0.2 per cent to 0.3 per cent of annual deaths, and during that period there has not been a single prosecution. Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s Bill, which is the subject of your editorial, is based on the Oregon legislation, but with even more safeguards to protect vulnerable members of society.
Why do you think that the experience in England and Wales will be so different from that in Oregon?
Lord Joffe
House of Lords
Sir, For several years The Times has expressed an enlightened view on a change in the law on assisted dying. But on Saturday it defended the status quo (“Death and the Law”). I am at a loss to know what has changed. Dying Britons are still travelling abroad to die, some are taking their lives at home in the UK, others are helped to die illegally by doctors and, of course, there are many who are forced to suffer against their wishes to the bitter end.
In the meantime other jurisdictions, the most recent being Vermont, change their laws to allow assisted dying within safeguards. Other states and countries have legalised assisted dying without fulfilling any of the dire predictions opponents to change have raised. What suddenly makes Britain uniquely ill equipped to provide such a choice?
Sir Patrick Stewart
London SE16

Renaming Vehicle Excise Duty would alter the misconception that drivers of motor vehicles pay a ‘road tax’, while cyclists do not
Sir, Many drivers are under the misconception that Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) is a “road tax” (report, May 22), and some use this as an excuse for bullying and aggression towards other road users, notably cyclists. Perhaps the Treasury should rename VED “Pollution Tax”. This would remove the misguided idea that only motorists pay for the upkeep of roads but also make it clear that we vehicle owners are being taxed for the environmental damage our vehicles cause.
Rob McIvor
London SE13

When quoting from the Bible on the evils of excessive wealth, it is important to refer to the original version in its full form
Sir, Carol Midgley (Times2, May 23) claims that “money is the root of all evil”. No. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy vi, 10).
Quite a difference.
Jill Hackett
Flackwell Heath, Bucks

Leaving everything to nature is a luxury we cannot afford — however, we should not release millions of farmed pheasants into the wild
Sir, Lindsey Waddell, Chairman of the Gamekeepers’ Organisation (letter, May 22), is quite right in pointing out that many of “the factors that drove these subtle but substantive predator/prey relationships have broken down”. But this is not an argument for exterminating the increasingly rare predators, but surely a very rational argument for curtailing the release of an estimated 35 million pheasants and 6 million red-legged partridges into the wild every year.
Pheasants in particular are serious predators themselves, destroying countless larger invertebrates as well as lizards, slow-worms, frogs and even small snakes and other wildlife. I agree with Mr Waddell that leaving everything to nature is a luxury we cannot afford, but neither can nature afford to have millions of farmed pheasants dumped on her by gamekeepers every year.
John A. Burton
CEO, World Land Trust, and Visiting Fellow, University of East Anglia


SIR – Banning the use of olive oil in stoppered bottles or in bowls for dipping has nothing to do with protecting the consumer (Letters, May 21), and everything to do with taking away our choice.
Any consumer with a half a palate should be able to tell if the oil is any good; they will also know that the lower end of the restaurant market is likely to have inferior quality oil. If consumers don’t like the taste, they don’t have to have it.
This directive will make restaurants send out salads already dressed, and they won’t offer bread and olive oil.
Marcia MacLeod
London NW6
SIR – The obvious reaction to this ridiculous ruling is to do as the French do: accept the directive and then ignore it.
However, we will, no doubt, complain about the stupidity of it, and then go on to enforce it ferociously.
A D Dunster
Bournemouth, Dorset
SIR – When I start to take my own olive oil to a restaurant, will I be charged corkage?
David Sisson
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
SIR – What will happen to the hundreds of millions of restaurant olive-oil dispensers that will be rendered useless by this new EU law?
We need to reinvent a use for these elegant glass jugs, retro-style decanters or snazzy modern dispensers to avoid a tidal wave of redundant glass.
Mike Hughes
Wokingham, Berkshire

SIR – On the Today programme yesterday, David Cameron stated that the Tories would listen to what the British people say, and act accordingly. Perhaps this is actually at the root of the problems besetting the major parties.
If parties are solely concerned with seeking and retaining power by constantly changing their policies to match the views of the day, we might as well discard party politics and have a non-elected organisation that governs to public opinion derived from sample analysis.
Surely the better way to achieve power is for a party to say: “We believe in X, Y and Z, join us if you agree.” People react more warmly to clear, decisive policies that make one party stand out from another.
This might explain the recent rise in the popularity of Ukip, which, if it had a group of leaders perceived by the public to be credible politicians, could have ripped the hearts out of the Tories and Labour by now.
Nicholas Hopson-Hill
Stockbridge, Hampshire
Related Articles
Fears for the future of bread dipped in olive oil
23 May 2013
SIR – In March 2010, the Council of Europe agreed a recommendation on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, to be implemented by June 2013.
Gay marriage was guided through by Lynne Featherstone (then a Lib Dem equalities minister) when Britain took the chairmanship of the council in 2011, and aided by Sir Nicolas Bratza, then head of the European Court of Human Rights.
So presumably Mr Cameron’s motivation to pursue the same-sex marriage Bill is not down to his own conviction that it is good for the institution of marriage and the raising of children in a family unit, but rather his desire to maintain the Coalition, and to prevent further damaging press coverage about Europe’s interference in the lives of people in this country.
Can these be described as good reasons for alienating a substantial percentage of his own party?
Jeremy Tozer
Sonning Common, Oxfordshire
SIR – We should be ashamed of the Tories who are protesting against gay social rights. We are a nation that pioneered democracy, and now some of us are behaving like the worst extremist regimes in the world. One might as well make a law against blondes, white-van men, or musicians, or another arbitrary section of the community.
Some of our most outstanding citizens who have contributed most to our culture and civilization have been gay. Why should they not be able to marry in church if they are Christian?
Elizabeth Davies
Papworth Everard, Cambridgeshire
SIR – David Skelton (, May 21) is incorrect to call homosexual marriage “equal marriage”.
There is nothing equal about it if it does not contain definitions of adultery or consummation.
A C Allen
Whitchurch, Shropshire
Scottish subsidy
SIR – Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, has claimed that Scotland will be better off independent.
Is it not time that David Cameron advised him that, with independence, the Barnett formula, whereby up to £11 billion per year is pumped into Scotland’s economy, will cease to apply?
This payment means that £1,600 more can be spent on every man, woman and child living in Scotland than is spent in England, and enables the Scots to enjoy a better hospital service, free prescriptions and free tuition for Scottish universities, among other benefits.
Alternatively, scrap the formula now and let Scotland share the experience of the 56 million living in England before going to cast their vote in the referendum.
Ron Mason
East Grinstead, West Sussex
SIR – Why has the question of who is eligible to vote in the Scottish referendum not been properly addressed? Why is it that only the Scots can determine whether the United Kingdom remains whole? Are those of us living south of the border deemed to be unworthy of deciding on the future of our country? The whole of Sudan got a say in whether South Sudan should become an independent nation, yet only a minority of the population of the United Kingdom are afforded the same dignity.
Simon Major
Llandyrnog, Denbighshire
Hideous housing
SIR – I was astounded to read that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary (report, May 17) thinks the beauty of the countryside can be improved by building new houses.
It is nonsense to compare modern housing to Chatsworth or Salisbury Cathedral. If modern housing was really something “to ravish the eye and lift up the soul”, and was placed sensitively in villages, we could agree with him. But we all know that it will be packed into new housing estates that have no community spirit, where neighbour knows not neighbour.
John Doyle
Warehorne, Kent
SIR – The Coalition seems to have stumbled about in the dark when it comes to planning, on the one hand giving more power to communities to shape their environment and, on the other, labelling them Nimbys when they reject unsustainable development in the countryside. Perhaps it should consult Gordon Brown on the merits of eco towns?
Stephen Collins
Woodmansgreen, West Sussex
England at its best
SIR – Regarding “An English garden – so where are the turbines?” (Letters, May 21), Sarah Johnson should have been in the car with my husband and me yesterday.
Having lived in this beautiful corner of Somerset for nearly 30 years, we still manage to get lost in the narrow, deserted lanes not 10 minutes from our house. The apple blossom was magnificent.
The English idyll is alive and well.
Sally Greenhalgh
Ditcheat, Somerset
That sinking feeling
SIR – On boarding our cruise ship recently we were surprised that the background music on the PA was the theme from Titanic (Letters, May 21). Thankfully, it was not followed by the theme from The Poseidon Adventure.
Jeremy Smyth
Spalding, Lincolnshire
London-centric HS2
SIR – Your leading article (May 18) asserts that regional towns and cities are “floundering in London’s wake”, and supports the building of the High Speed 2 project as a means of rectifying this. Unfortunately, the proposed sequence and timescales of construction will do little to change this.
Construction will begin in London with no certainty about the route north of Birmingham. It is set to take 20 years to reach Leeds and Manchester. Will it be cancelled north of Birmingham, just as regional Eurostar trains were? Neither Leeds nor Manchester will have high-speed links to anywhere further north, so they will continue to flounder in London’s wake.
I would be prepared to believe that HS2 is intended to benefit all of Great Britain were the first phases to be an electrified line from Leeds to Northallerton and a cross-city line at Manchester, with the next phase being a high-speed line from Leeds to Birmingham. These would improve links from Scotland to the Midlands and from north-east England to every large English and Welsh conurbation except London. Sadly, this will not happen.
The actual proposal appears to be intended only to enlarge the London commuter belt.
Damian Bell
Gateshead, Tyne and Wear
Dogs, cows and walkers
SIR – Having your dog on a lead is no protection from cow attacks (Letters, May 21) – rather the reverse. The cow will associate the human with the dog threat, and attack the creature which has no teeth. I know people who are lucky to be alive after this has happened to them.
Farmers in Somerset have modified their advice to walkers, telling them to release their dogs if attacked, although by then it may be too late. Ideally farmers should separate suckler herds from footpaths, by a temporary or permanent fence.
Madeline Helps
Bath, Somerset
To have and to hold
SIR – When we were in Lucca, for our silver wedding anniversary, an elderly nun spoke to my wife and me in Italian, which neither of us understood. After an amusing attempt at sign language, it became apparent what she was saying: “How nice it is to see a couple as old as you still holding hands!” (Features, May 21).
Noel Radcliffe
Tarvin, Cheshire
Neighbours who owe their lives to local firemen
SIR – Greg Morris (Letters, May 20) is right, fires do not only happen from 9am to 5pm, and it is the local, usually voluntary, fire service that is the lifeline.
Last year, what started as a garage fire in the early hours quickly engulfed our block of flats, where we were all asleep and unaware of the drama unfolding. Someone sounded the alert, and that brought fire brigades from three counties.
Were it not for our local fire station, my neighbours and I would not be alive.
Linda Bos
Midhurst, West Sussex
SIR – Jack Warden (Letters, May 20) believes substantial savings would be made if there was one national fire service.
However, anyone who has studied amalgamations in public service knows that larger organisations are more costly to operate than a number of smaller ones. Any savings that it is claimed will result are usually illusory.
For example, combining the brigades of Devon and Somerset has failed to deliver any benefit.
Paul Hornby

Irish Times:

Sir, – Every suggestion at Seanad reform seems to rely on some undemocratic mechanism suggested out of genuinely good motives.
An Irish resident who doesn’t pay tax here but attended a particular university can vote. A person, in particular an elderly person, who didn’t have the financial means to attend university yet has worked, lived and paid taxes in Ireland is denied a vote. More bizarrely, an Irish person who attended a prestigious non- Irish university such as MIT is denied a basic democratic right. And all of those who are enfranchised with university votes have their votes watered down by the complex and undemocratic way that other senators are picked.
There are many fine people in the Seanad, some of whom have made great contributions to debates. But because of the undemocratic nature of the institution, these debates rank alongside bar-stool debates. The best reason for allowing a referendum on Seanad existence is that it will be the Seanad’s only brush with true democracy. Financial savings are a bonus. – Yours, etc,
Leopardstown Avenue,
Blackrock, Co Dublin.
Sir, – We reject the characterisation by Paschal Donohue TD (Opinion, May 23rd) of those who are opposed to the abolition of Seanad Éireann as “political insiders” and “establishment” figures. We are a non-political group of barristers, solicitors, academics and law students who are opposed to abolition on the grounds that reform of the second chamber would create more democracy not less.
We note that Deputy Donohue justifies abolition on the grounds of cost. We wish to point out that the total annual cost of Senators’ salaries is €4.1 million. This compares to €3.4 million for Ministerial advisers. This comparison shows just how trite the cost argument is. Deputy Donohue should consider the detailed proposals for halving Senators’ salaries in the Seanad Bill 2013.
Deputy Donohue also justifies abolition on the grounds that the existing Seanad has failed to block government action. We wish to point out that the value of a second chamber is shown every time the government adopts an amendment proposed in the Seanad. Deputy Donohue showed the value of this when as an opposition Senator he proposed amendments to legislation, for example the Dublin Transport Authority Bill 2008, which were accepted by the government.
It is unfortunate that Deputy Donohue did not address the proposed reforms of the Seanad in any way in his article, particularly when the Government did not oppose the Seanad Bill 2013 last week. – Yours, etc,

A chara, – Dr Marie Clarke’s assertion (Leftfield, May 21st) that the Higher Education Authority has set out a “centralised and technically based proposal to distribute educational and research activity among institutions to replace existing systems of research activity” has no basis in fact.
The HEA, in implementing the Government’s strategy for higher education, is working towards the creation of a more coherent system where the contribution of each institution according to its mission will be co-ordinated to achieve high-quality outcomes. As part of that process the higher education institutions will, as requested by the HEA, set out their institutional mission. They will do so by reference to current strengths and the history and traditions of the institution. There is no prospect of the HEA determining the mission of an institution or distributing educational and research activity as Dr Clarke believes.
With autonomy, however, comes accountability and it is important that institutions, in the performance of their mission, contribute to achieving national policy objectives, social and economic. It is also important there is a high level of collaboration across the institutions, the more effectively to deliver on those objectives. – Is mise,

Sir, – My eyes widened when they first saw “North Atlantic Isles” over a letter from Dermot C Clarke (May 18th).
At the recent “Irish Day” on the London Stock Exchange I gave a brief outline of just such an idea in the group discussions that took place following the opening ceremonies. Call it the “North Atlantic Isles” or the “North Atlantic Corridor”, it is all the same.
The islands of Ireland, Britain, Isle of Man, the Faroes, over to Iceland and then to Greenland (under home rule from Denmark) could be an interesting economic bloc.
The “Real Map of Ireland” shows Ireland’s marine territory of more than 220 million acres, which is 10 times the size of the island of Ireland. The Northern Corridor or North Atlantic Isles is Europe’s last frontier, potentially rich in oil, gas and food in the fisheries. What is more, Ireland has two of the best warm water ports servicing the Northern corridor in Shannon and Derry.
Just as important as the riches in natural resources, a grouping of Northern isles that choose to, could have their own currency and monetary policies not dominated by the economic and cultures of central Europe. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – The sickening killing in Woolwich (Front page, May 23rd) is wrong; and our thoughts are with the victim’s family.
Such acts are incompatible with Islam. The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the drone attacks on Pakistan and other colonial interventions were eventually going to lead to such acts, but Bush and Blair decided to ignore that.  Instead of preventing terrorism, these wars caused more terrorism.
It is pathetic that the racist opportunist thugs of the EDL and the BNP will use the loss of a life to justify more hatred and violence. – Yours, etc,
Upper Newtownards Road,

Irish Independent:

23 May 2013
* Sir, I want to congratulate Seamus Coffey on his article on austerity (Irish Independent, May 21).
Also in this section
Casting the first stone?
State ‘jobs for the boys’ policy benefits us all
Let’s carry Donal’s message in our hearts
In his article, he tells us the simple fact that ‘we are spending more money on government services for ourselves than we are collecting in tax revenue from ourselves’.
A bandwagon has being going for some time in which too many in politics and the media have been saying that austerity is not necessary and/or is not working.
Seamus Coffey assures us that austerity is both necessary and working and he gives us the figures to prove it.
He tells us that in the last five years the cumulative budget deficits added up to nearly €120bn (over 90pc of GNP) and the rescue of the Irish banking system contributed around €40bn to this.
In 2009, the deficit on providing government services was more than €15bn.
This year, as a result of austerity, it will be €4bn.
The truth is that, as a result of past mistakes, the present austerity is unavoidable.
Seamus Coffey has done us all a service by telling us the story in understandable figures.
A Leavy
Shielmartin Drive, Sutton, Dublin 13
* I am writing concerning John Bruton’s lecture on ‘frugality’. I find the arrogance of the man breathtaking considering his vast income and pensions.
The only thing I find “immoral” is that “retired” politicians and senior civil servants are allowed to work full-time and continue to draw pensions from their previous employment.
Why does John Bruton suggest that pensioners and people on low-incomes be further penalised?
Liam Mac Cionnaith
Co Luiminigh
* “Still cold enough for month of May and growth sluggish,” I remarked to a casual acquaintance on entering the newsagents last evening. “Except for dandelions,” he replied. “The roadsides, fields and lawns of the country are covered with them.”
How right he was! So prolific was the dandelion crop around my holding that on the following day I went to the garden centre for a spray remedy. Rather than encourage my custom, the merchant half muttered: “Aren’t dandelions like ‘golden flowers from heaven’ compared to the cold wet barren sight that was our lot for the past months?” Once more I had to agree, while deciding it was time I did a little research on dandelions.
The common dandelion is a perennial yellow flowering herbaceous plant. After flowers have gone, fruits form and open up with the seeds inside attached to little bristles that travel large distances in wind. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the yellow flower and help pollinate them. Deer and rabbits feed off the leaves and certain birds such as goldfinches eat the seeds.
Herbalists view the common dandelion as a valuable herb because of its medicinal and culinary uses. It is used by children in play, but despised by gardeners because they overcrowd crops.
Its food value in salads, soups, winemaking and green tea are well known, but the medicinal value of the dandelion is vast. It is used to treat everything from stomach problems, gallstones, joint pains and eczema to being recommended as skin toner, blood tonic, aid to viral infection and in cancer treatment.
Nature provides us with many blessings – if only we had the eyes to see.
James Gleeson
Thurles, Co Tipperary
* According to the article in your newspaper ‘Suicide risk for men under 21 is four times higher’, (May 21) Prof Kevin Malone, author of a report on suicide, “says Irish youths have the fourth highest suicide rate in Europe, and the numbers taking their own lives is rising”.
Why is there such a discrepancy in the rates of suicide between men and women?
From a young age, boys are taught not to cry. Such shows of emotion as fear, timidity or sadness are frowned upon. Boys learn, both consciously and unconsciously, to suppress their emotions. For girls, such expressions of emotion are encouraged and girls consequently feel more comfortable with their emotions and with expressing them.
The teenage years are difficult at the best of times. Children move away from the security of their parents and begin the tentative steps of forming their own independent personalities.
Their interests, their values, even their sexuality can all be in the mix. Coupled with this, in their late teens they do what’s commonly regarded as the most difficult exam they will ever do in their lives, while trying to figure out what career they will follow.
No wonder some teenagers fall through the cracks. Many feel unable to articulate their difficulties or reach out for help. By the time these boys become young adults, the die is cast.
A lifetime of “programming” can be very difficult to overcome.
When a crisis occurs they feel unable to cope and suicide unfortunately is looked at as an option. However, there is hope.
According to the report “existing suicide intervention and prevention programmes may be missing the boat by not focusing on school-age young people”. I agree. Education can play a huge part.
I believe resources should be put into organisations like Positive Mental Health here in Galway, with whom I am a volunteer. We deliver modules to transition-year students on all aspects of mental health, from bullying to relationships to peer pressure – aspects of a young person’s life that are just as important as getting good grades in the Leaving Cert. Positive strategies to help people who are experiencing difficulties are an integral part of the modules we deliver.
Everyone takes the emotional well-being of young people for granted, but the recent suicides of young people show us we do this at our peril.
Thomas Roddy
Salthill, Co Galway
* I was interested to read in an Irish Independent article that Trinity College Dublin has launched the entire Cromwellian map collection of Ireland, made shortly after Oliver Cromwell’s successful conquest of Ireland, available online for the first time. Thirty-two counties, 240 baronies, 2,000+ parishes and 62,000 townlands.
TCD associate professor of modern history Dr Michael O Siochru said of it: “Some of the maps are in magnificent condition, beautifully coloured and engraved. They are beautiful works of art and it’s the first time in 300 years that this collection has been back together.”
It is believed to be the first time in world history that a country had been mapped in such detail in ‘The Down Survey’, conducted between 1655 and 1658 and supervised by William Petty, surgeon general in Cromwell’s army. Ireland’s population was then estimated at 200,000. It seems a small number and can’t be known for certain.
Astonishing too, when one considers that 200 years later it had exploded to more than six million by the Great Famine in 1845.
One can view on the TCD Down Survey website a Cromwellian map of a region of the country with a Google map and satellite image of today below it.
There was a human cost which lies behind the creation of these ‘beautiful’ maps. Irish people were evicted in their tens of thousands from their homes, lands and properties and shipped in large numbers as slave labour to new English colonies overseas in the Caribbean and the few early colonies in the US.
Let us admire the Cromwellian maps, but also remember the Irish people taken, never to return.
M Sullivan
College Road, Co Cork
Irish Independent


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