Quiet day

22 September 2013 Quiet day

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble Lt Murray is promoted to Lt Commander, and his Command? Troutbridge of course. Priceless.
I get the sugar and sultanas for my wine sweep the drive
We watch Dads army v good.
Scrabble today Mary wins and gets under over 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.


Ferguson Smith
Ferguson Smith, who has died aged 98, served with great distinction in the wartime RAF before becoming the Special Branch officer responsible for arresting some of Britain’s most notorious postwar traitors.

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Ferguson Smith 
6:02PM BST 20 Sep 2013
Smith, a man with a rigorous attention to detail, quiet manner and dry sense of humour, arrested the Portland spy ring traitors in 1961; he also assisted in the arrest of George Blake, probably the most dangerous of all Russian spies, and the Admiralty spy John Vassall. He once hid in a cupboard at Brixton prison to eavesdrop on an incriminating telephone conversation by Klaus Fuchs, the atom spy.
The Portland spy ring, a bizarre group of unlikely suburban traitors, captured the public imagination and became the subject of several feature films and documentaries. They passed on to Russia secrets stolen from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland in Dorset, where the Royal Navy tested equipment for undersea warfare.
When the CIA was tipped off about a possible leak from the Portland base by a Russian “mole”, the information was passed on to MI5, which involved the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch in surveillance of the staff. Suspicion fell first on Harry Houghton, a civil servant, who was a heavy drinker and seemed to spend more money than he could have earned. His mistress, Ethel Gee, was a filing clerk there who had access to secret documents.
They were followed on visits to London, where they would meet a mysterious figure called Gordon Lonsdale, ostensibly a Canadian businessman dealing in jukeboxes and chewing gum machines, but who was eventually identified as a Russian agent called Konon Trofimovich Molody. He in turn was followed on regular visits to a bungalow in Ruislip occupied by an antiquarian bookseller, Peter Kroger, and his wife Helen.
In January 1961 the ring was rounded up on the same day. Houghton, Gee and Lonsdale were caught meeting together in London and arrested by Superintendent George Smith (no relation). Gee’s shopping bag contained huge amounts of film and photographs of Dreadnought, Britain’s first nuclear submarine, and specifications of the secret Borg Warner torque converter.
At the same time Ferguson Smith and two colleagues went to Ruislip to see the Krogers and ask them to accompany them to Scotland Yard for questioning. Before leaving, Mrs Kroger asked to be allowed to stoke the boiler. When Smith, a veteran spycatcher, checked her handbag, it was found to contain microdots, reproducing secret documents in miniature. These, it transpired, were hidden in antiquarian books provided by Kroger to Lonsdale, who sent them with letters to his wife in the Soviet Union.
In the Kroger bungalow the police found large sums of cash and a mass of spying equipment, including fake passports, photographic material, code pads and a long-range transmitter linked to Moscow. It was the espionage coup of the decade and the crowning moment of Smith’s career in Special Branch, which he had joined in 1936 and went on to lead from 1966 to 1972.
Ferguson George Donaldson Smith (known as Ferg or Fergie) was born in Aberdeen on October 5 1914 into a family of wholesale grocers who claimed to have introduced Robertson’s marmalade to the breakfast tables of northern Scotland. He was an outstanding sportsman at Aberdeen grammar school, where he was head of school and captain of rugby and cricket.
With the Cairngorms just a long bike ride away, he developed a lifelong love of mountains. Apart from 18 months as a constable on the beat and his wartime service, he spent his whole working life in Special Branch. His mother disapproved of his career choice, regarding it as “a thorough waste of a good education”.
Smith enlisted into the RAF volunteer reserve in July 1941 and trained as a navigator in Canada, where he was commissioned. On his return to Britain, and after further training, in August 1943 he joined No 101 Squadron flying Lancasters from Ludford Magna near Lincoln.
A month later No 101 crews began to fly specially modified Lancasters fitted with top-secret radio jamming equipment. An additional “Special Operator” joined each crew to work this equipment, which located and jammed German fighter control’s broadcasts; occasionally, the German-speaking operator posed as a controller to spread disinformation.
During the winter of 1943-44, No 101 crews fought in the Battle of Berlin, suffering a high number of casualties. In January 1944 Smith and his crew were approaching Berlin when their aircraft was attacked by a German nightfighter and badly damaged. Smith sustained severe injuries, being wounded in the back, the chest and the leg, but refrained from reporting his injuries, instead working heroically to rescue the two gunners who were trapped in their turrets. Not until it was apparent that both men were beyond assistance did Smith relax his efforts.
Meanwhile the pilot pressed on to the target which the crew bombed successfully before making the long and hazardous return trip.
Despite his wounds, Smith remained at his post and skillfully navigated the defenceless Lancaster back to base where the pilot made an emergency landing. Both men were awarded an immediate DFC, the citation for Smith concluding that “his courage, fortitude and determination were worthy of the highest praise”.
Smith spent several months recovering before returning to No 101, where he flew on operations for another year. With its unique role of electronic jamming, and with its aircraft carrying aerials that made them uncomfortably conspicuous targets for the Luftwaffe, No 101 suffered the highest casualty rate of any RAF squadron in the war. In April 1945 Smith was awarded a Bar to his DFC.
After a period in Transport Command, Smith was released from the service in February 1946 as a flight lieutenant.
On discharge he returned to Scotland Yard, where his linguistic skills – he spoke fluent German, French and Russian – were of particular value to Special Branch during the Cold War. His service there brought him into contact with many famous figures as well as spies, including Oswald Mosley, the British fascist leader, the explorer Laurens van der Post, and the star of the wartime Double Cross, Eddie Chapman (better know as Agent Zigzag).
Smith was protection officer to the Duke of Windsor on his infrequent visits to London after the Abdication, once turning down a gratuity from the former king (saying simply: “I don’t take tips.”) He kept a close eye on the British Communist Party, whose annual meeting was regularly monitored by the Branch, and went out to Ghana to supervise security for Kwame Nkrumah at the country’s independence celebrations.
In September 1962 Smith (by then a detective superintendent) was the lead investigator into the John Vassall case. Vassall, a homosexual who had been blackmailed into becoming a spy while Naval attaché at the British embassy in Moscow during the 1950s, was then assistant to Tam Galbraith, a Civil Lord of the Admiralty. He had provided the Soviets with thousands of classified documents until 1961, when he was identified by a Soviet defector. Smith helped verify this allegation, and in October 1962 Vassall was convicted and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment.
In 1966 Smith was appointed to lead Special Branch as Deputy Assistant Commissioner. By then there were over 300 Special Branch officers at Scotland Yard and a unit in each of the 42 regional forces. Their main attention at that time was on the activities of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc countries and, increasingly from the end of the 1960s, the IRA, as well as the protection of visiting VIPs.
On his retirement in 1972 Smith was appointed CVO and lived quietly in Surrey with his wife, reading poetry and enjoying the countryside, never moving from the house they had bought in 1952. His peace was only disturbed by two three-month security tours in the Seychelles for the Foreign Office, for which he persuaded his wife to overcome her fear of aeroplanes and accompany him on the only flights of her life.
Ferguson Smith married, in 1944, Margaret (Rita) Murphy. She died in 2003. A son and daughter survive him.
Ferguson Smith, born October 5 1914, died September 15 2013


Regarding your thoughtful leader (“We can’t hide from the realities of the drugs economy any longer”, Comment), there is a big difference between condoning cannabis use and protecting children from drugs. Decriminalisation acknowledges the social reality of cannabis and spares users criminal records. What’s really needed is a regulated market with age controls.
Separating the hard and soft drug markets is critical. As long as organised crime controls cannabis distribution, consumers of cannabis will come into contact with sellers of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Cannabis is less harmful than legal alcohol. It makes no sense to waste limited public resources on failed cannabis policies that finance organised crime and facilitate hard drug use. Taxing and regulating cannabis may send the wrong message to children, but I like to think the children are more important than the message.
Robert Sharpe
Policy analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy
Washington, DC
A treatment for anxiety
I am writing in response to your article “The rise of anxiety disorder” (Magazine), as the only treatment mentioned in your article is cognitive behavioural therapy. CBT is useful for helping people to recognise their thought patterns, but in my experience working with children, adolescents and adults, thinking your way out of an anxiety-laden situation doesn’t work once your body is flooded with stress hormones.
I and many other mental health care professionals have used more successfully EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing). EMDR is now in the Nice guidelines for treatment of trauma and trauma-related conditions. An attack of anxiety is a trauma for the person suffering it and each subsequent attack increases the brain’s likelihood to respond in the same way again.
I would urge anyone suffering with any form of anxiety or phobia to seek out EMDR as a treatment. The EMDR Association of UK and Europe is a good place to start.
Nicola Dyson
Family systemic psychotherapist
Upton Grey
China’s great strides forward
The Observer carried a commentary entitled “Corrupt, anonymous and in thrall to the party – China is not the new Japan” (Will Hutton, Comment). I am deeply disappointed by this. China still lags behind developed countries in innovation. But it is catching up. China invests over 1.5% of its GDP in science and technology. It is the number three world issuer of invention patents and the world’s second largest publisher of scientific papers. And it has made breakthroughs in such fields as life science, manned space aircraft and lunar exploration. Mr Hutton’s claim that the party is a barrier to innovation is untenable.
China has made enormous efforts to protect intellectual property. By the end of 2012, foreign companies have made a total of 1.25m patent applications in China. Some choose to manufacture their patented products in China and export them to other countries for greater profits and technological value.
Miao Deyu
Spokesman of the Chinese embassy in the UK, London W1
Shakespeare and the sisters
As an English teacher and lifelong Shakespeare fan, I was intrigued by your article “‘Tis true, ’tis pity and pity ’tis, ’tis true: Shakespeare did sell actresses short” (In Focus). Shakespeare may not given us a female Othello, Lear or Hamlet, but this is to overlook the social, political and artistic conditions of his times. He may be, as Jonson eulogised: “Not of an age, but for all time”, yet we cannot criticise Shakespeare for the gender imbalance that was prevalent in Elizabethan and Jacobean society. Female characters such as Lady Macbeth, Goneril and Regan are powerful, deftly crafted villainesses of the first order.
David Hughes
I’m warming to the code
Will Hutton says that as a country we don’t get the importance of computer code (“In California, I saw the virtues – and vices – of the new economy”, Comment). At the age of 74, I am teaching myself HTML and CSS. I’ll keep you informed of my progress.
John Leftwich
A barb from the Bard
Noel Hannon (Letters) correctly identified the source of “To thine own self be true”. However, he is making an error in assuming that because Shakespeare wrote it, he believed it. As he gave these words to a mischief-maker, we can safely deduce that he was telling us that Polonius is an ass.
John Patten
Runcorn, Cheshire
Oh, Paddy, how could you?
To paraphrase Lord Acton’s famous dictum: “All power corrupts, and in the case of the Liberal Democrats, a small share of power corrupts absolutely” (“Ashdown: we could work again with the Tories”, News).
Professor Pete Dorey

Buy-to-let “investors” have taken up significant sections of the entry level of the market for almost a decade in the south of England and underpin the market with high levels of rent that are paid by multiple households of young people (“Britain is becoming a nation of estate agents”, leader). It is surreal that the UK property market is rising when the IMF considers it overvalued by 30% and the liberal left fails to consider rent controls; in Germany, it is being advanced on the right by Angela Merkel.
There are three questions that I would pose:
■ How much state subsidy post 2008 has the property market soaked up, including bailouts of mortgage providers and quantitative easing – £500bn perhaps? This is a very expensive way not to build houses over the past two generations.
■ A fair rent would provide controls to London and the overheating south that would not affect interest rates and manufacturing and should be supported by all northern Labour MPs.
■ I urge Labour never again to “bail out” more than one mortgage per individual and make clear not only that it supports a regional based Fair Rent Act based on 25-30 year returns but also geared to regional pay rates for the peripheries of Cornwall, Wales and the north.
Let’s see if George Osborne’s boom is just powder puff on the backs of the high rents of the young “priced out” and the poor.
Peter Hack
It is not simply a shortage of supply that is creating the latest property bubble, but the feed-through of £375bn of electronic loans from the Bank of England into the retail banking system since 2009.
This works in a way well understood by the Treasury and the bank: first, there is a rapid and deliberate rise in share prices, with the FTSE now at levels not seen since 2005, which enables the banks to revalue upwards both its own assets and also the collateral of potential borrowers.
But the real trigger is that the quantitative easing loans are redefined as usable “deposits” by the banks using accounting trickery. This enables them, in the absence of any lending regulations – despite the protestations of both George Osborne and Vince Cable – to expand massively the volume of mortgage loans, in effect inventing money out of thin air, since the real economy cannot produce the levels of savings that textbooks insist are the only source of bank loans.
Were the Bank of England to operate meaningful monetary policies to ensure the banks cannot repeat past overlending, it would undoubtedly stop house-price inflation in its tracks, but almost certainly cost Mark Carney his job.
Adrian Berridge
“A good tenant is more important than the maximum rent and those on benefits are more reliable,” says landlord Phil Stewardson (“Buy to let – without leaving your conscience at the estate agent’s door”, Personal finance). Yes, because, in effect, we are paying his mortgage for him.
When we had large local authority housing stocks, the money paid in rent by people on benefits went straight back into the public purse. Now, the money paid in housing benefit goes to pay the buy-to-let mortgage of a private individual who hopes to make a huge profit at some point in the future, probably for their pension pot. These people are not carrying out a service, they are making a profit from the public purse.
The “necessity” for private landlords is due to the loss of the stock of local authority housing, much of which seems to now be owned not by the families who bought it under the right to buy scheme, but by private landlords.
The houses bought by private landlords are also the starter-level homes that are sought by young people trying to buy their first home; bought up off-plan in new estates or in older terraces.
Pauline Shevills


Three cheers for Janet Street-Porter’s strong support of our young children needing time far more than they do tests (“Kids need time more than tests”, 15 September). The vast majority of early-years educators would argue that it is precisely children from deprived backgrounds who need a later start to quasi-formal learning, because they have not yet had the opportunity to develop the kinds of physical, social and emotional competencies that are an essential prerequisite for formal learning to be effective.
Without these crucial foundations for learning (which take time and cannot be rushed), it is these very children who will experience failure at an early age, and who will often grow up with that deeply ingrained self-image. It is the “Too Much Too Soon” campaign’s approach which is the true friend of the deprived children that ministers are rightly so concerned about, and not the misguided “earlier is better” ideology that informs current Department for Education thinking.
Dr Richard House
Senior lecturer in early childhood studies University of Winchester, Hampshire
It is disingenuous for Joan Smith to claim that Prince William has undertaken only 88 official engagements and is therefore unworthy of our respect (“Who but a prince gets a year’s paternity leave”, 15 September). These have had to be fitted into the operational life of an air force pilot. In this case, one who has been responsible, as flight commander, for some 149 rescues. Hovering a Wessex helicopter over dangerous sites has nothing to do with privilege. Privileged he may be, but some respect and recognition is due, not to the man who has left his job, but to a man who has not shirked what that job entails at any stage. I dare say those he and his crews rescued will always be grateful for his real skills and dedication to their welfare.
Richard A John
Brixham, Devon
I greatly admire John Lichfield’s writings on all things French, but when it comes to art history, I think he may need to re-sit the examination (“Move over Impressionism … “, 15 September). Yes, the Impressionists did paint modern life and the effects of sunlight, but the English Pre-Raphaelites had beaten them to it by 20 years. Witness Madox Brown’s haunting image of emigration The Last of England, his monumental Work or Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience. And 1914 did not represent the beginning of the Aesthetic movement, but its end. It began in 1860 with a painting like Whistler’s Symphony in White: Number One. 1860 marked the end of the first phase of Pre-Raphaelitism, and the beginning of its medievalising and Symbolist phase, which is what this exhibition seems to be about.
Paul Street
Leeds, Yorkshire
We apologise for the error, which was not John Lichfield’s but was introduced during editing
A spokesperson at the London arms fair claimed the trade is worth between £11bn and £22bn to the British economy. Maybe, but not to the global economy. Most people think of the economy as commerce between nations and not as a global whole. When they do, they will realise we are not going to improve the lot of everyone on this planet until we stop making things that harm our collective endeavours for a better life.
Geoff Naylor
Colden Common, Hampshire
D J Taylor declares: “… ‘northern’ popular music… makes a virtue of its dolefulness and sexual fatalism. You doubt whether Joy Division could have come from Crawley” (15 September). Yet Crawley is the origin of dolefulness doyens The Cure, and is not far from Haywards Heath, crucible of melancholic Morrissey pasticheurs Suede. DJ Taylor’s home town Norwich is also the base of the Cure tribute band Liqueur (get it?).
F Harvey
You report that a survey of Lib Dem members indicates they would prefer to work with Labour after the next election (15 September). These are the people Lib Dem president Tim Farron referred to in his address as living on “Planet Beard”. Perhaps there’s hope for British politics.
Keith Flett
London N17

WHILE there is no doubt some consultants are receiving large payments for working non- scheduled hours, the reality is that most medical and nursing overtime remains unpaid (“Doctors paid £150,000 for overtime”, News, last week). What you fail to identify is that there are currently far more managers in the NHS on greater salaries and bonuses than clinical staff.
During 26 years of working in the NHS I’ve struggled to understand what most of them do. Your admirable objective of a seven-day service would readily be obtainable within the budget if managers were either redeployed to clinical jobs or removed.
Paul C Nolan, Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Spinal Surgeon, Malone Medical Chambers, Belfast
Hit list
The payments that Margaret Hodge MP, chairwoman of the public accounts committee, finds “outrageous” are a direct result of hospital and trust managers being required to meet government waiting list targets. This entails a contract with a local private hospital to carry out the work, or they can persuade consultants to work in their own time in ad hoc clinics and on operating lists.
Oliver Duke, Consultant Physician, London, SW2
Net gains
Hodge is outraged at surgeons upping their salaries to more than £250,000 a year by doing emergency work, yet a football player is admired for pocketing £300,000 a week.
Dr William Larkworthy, Malaucène, France
Fair pay
Doctors save, extend and improve our lives, so why should we be outraged because they earn a lot of money for this? They certainly deserve far more remuneration than the top people at the FTSE 100 companies. To have an MP expecting consultants to do overtime for nothing flies in the face of the Tories’ values of hard work and fair reward.
Your safe weekend care campaign is vital but here you have chosen the wrong target. It is the organisation and the administration of the NHS  that needs fixing.
Phil Lewis, Cardiff
Going to waste 
Your article failed to note that in the current contract there is a provision for consultants to work extra hours at contractual rates of pay. In February the National Audit Office document “Managing NHS hospital consultants” highlighted this process. Instead of paying up to £372 an hour, individual trusts need only pay from £48 an hour. Surely it reflects poor management of the NHS, which is neglecting something that it has negotiated.
You need to write an article on how we can ensure that the management of the NHS is of the same high quality as the delivery of care to patients. We must stop this flagrant waste of taxpayers’ money and hold those responsible up to public scrutiny. As an authoritative newspaper, it is time you stopped portraying doctors as universally greedy.
Colin Natali, Former NHS Consultant, London W2
Good care
While there are a few consultants who earn large salaries — and who are presented with clinical excellence awards — the vast majority earn far less than the sums you quote, and for far more effort than you are willing to acknowledge. My ex-wife and her colleagues in a major teaching hospital work overtime for no reward to cover holiday shifts as they are understaffed.
They do this for less than the consultants’ agreed salary as the NHS trust that employs them is nearly bankrupt. They also do this because they care about their patients, and because the health service is underfunded, as the government would rather pay for tax cuts for bankers.
Ian Vince, Linton, Cambridgeshire

Learning China’s lesson
THE Chinese educational authorities have recently tried to reduce the burden of exams and homework, yet Michael Gove, the education secretary, seems to take the opposite view in encouraging schools to lengthen class hours and shorten holidays. The Chinese are beginning to recognise that pushing students to breaking point has contributed to greatly increased risks of suicide and self-harm.
Recent research shows worrying evidence that Britain has been moving in the same direction. Suicide and self-harming have many causes but the pressure of schoolwork is clearly becoming a factor. Moving away from measurement-driven instruction to a more humanistic view of educational ideals should be encouraged. Isn’t it time for a rethink?
Professor Alastair Sharp, Lingnan University, Hong Kong 

Competitive spirit
Our education system needs to teach how to develop mental toughness, and those such as the anti-competition brigade in schools are failing to prepare children for adult life. To be successful, one needs to learn to cope with failure, stress, hard work and competition. This is removed from state schools, so when children grow up they are unable to cope except with drugs and drink.
Kurt Saunders, Oxford

Royal colleges back safe weekend care campaign
THE Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has signed up to The Sunday Times’s safe weekend care campaign and has stated on behalf of doctors that it is ethically unjustifiable to provide a lesser standard of care to patients at weekends.
The academy has led the debate on seven-day care and published three standards to support parity of care across the whole week. We are working on practical guidance to support these standards. This will reiterate the value of multi-disciplinary teamwork and co-ordination between hospital and community-based health and social care, as well as describing the key investigations needed at weekends.
While in the past the NHS may not have recognised the importance of consistency of care across the week, we do not believe that to be the case now. This is shown by the range of activity under way, including that of Sir Bruce Keogh’s NHS England forum.
Now is the time for all of this to be implemented throughout the NHS. There will undoubtedly be more debate about how to provide seven-day services including finding the resources required — particularly in difficult financial times. There is still a lot to be done to deliver the right treatment from the right person in the right place all the time.
Professor Terence Stephenson, Chairman, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges
Professor Norman Williams, President, Royal College of Surgeons of England
Dr Clare Gerada, Chairwoman, Royal College of General Practitioners
Professor Sue Bailey, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Caught between a rock and a hard place on Syria
THE ultimatum by John Kerry is so far off the mark as to be a joke (“Assad gets US-Russian ultimatum”, News, last week). How can chemical weapons — which are in different places — be inspected when there is a war going on all over Syria, and how can they be destroyed in a few months when Russia and America have not managed to get rid of their own after a number of years? It is a complicated, highly technical and dangerous business.
We have to face up to the fact that countries such as Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt are not ready for democracy and need a strong leader to keep the lid on them. It’s a question of the lesser of two evils. We took hundreds of years to get to where we are now and expect the rest of the world to leap into democracy at the drop of a hat. I fear the civil war in Syria will endure for some time to come. The thought of the Free Syrian Army taking over with all its different factions doesn’t bear thinking about, especially given the way Christians are being treated in Maaloula.
Elizabeth FitzGibbon, Elgin, Moray

Putting Lady Downton in her place 
I DO not doubt Lady Carnarvon is right about the Edwardian place settings (“Countess sets Downton straight”, News, September 8). There is, however, an implication that her setting is exclusively correct for modern usage. I doubt this. Placing the dessert spoon and fork across the top used to be called a nursery setting. It is now in wide use. From films of the Garter lunch at Windsor Castle and a state banquet at Buckingham Palace you can see that the royal household uses the nursery setting.
The banqueting department at Claridge’s and the butler at Christ Church, Oxford, also use the nursery setting. I imagine that the cutlery for the later courses is put at the top when space is limited. Rules of etiquette are not set in stone and change. Is Lady Carnarvon suggesting Her Majesty does not know how to set a table? We take our lead in these matters from the leader of society, rather than someone halfway down.
Wyndham Ellis, Northwich, Cheshire

Child protection needs tough tactics
CAMILLA CAVENDISH has got it right that there is far too much time spent on red tape, meetings and finding new excuses for the social services’ lack of success in protecting children (“Beaten and starving, little Daniel died because no one knocked on his door”, Comment, last week).
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children once had big, burly men who accepted no excuses and insisted on seeing the child “now”, removing them there and then if necessary. 
Alan Saxton, Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire

Weakest link
I am a former social worker and feel the real weakness in frontline work is that great numbers in the social services are not streetwise, which accounts for most of the errors.
I spent most of my time fighting the system. There were occasions when working in other environments — for instance, hospitals for children — that I was refused access to files and even prevented from joining case reviews. It is very likely that what Cavendish described will continue.
Paul Hammond, Wolverhampton

Called to account
Having spent almost 40 years in social care — 20 on the front line and 20 in senior management — I applaud Cavendish’s balanced and insightful article. I still retain my copy of the report on the killing of Maria Colwell by her stepfather, first published in 1974, when I was training. I agree that we need clear accountability rather than overly complex systems. I agree too that we need to value, train and reward frontline staff.
Mike Cooney, Manchester

Meal ticket
Is it appropriate for Lisa Opie, the BBC’s controller of business, to be launching a cafe business while being paid from our licence fee (“£200,000 a year, but BBC chief runs a cafe too”, Atticus, last week)?
Dr John Mitchell, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
Corporation tax
In light of the scandalous waste of our money at the BBC, the demands to renew my television licence are very annoying. The whole idea of paying a tax to fund the corporation is absurd, and if the tariff can’t be eliminated, it should be capped at £100. Just one advert between BBC shows would help reduce the fee.
Eamon O’Sullivan, London NW5
Fingers on lips
The undergraduates at the self- selected “top” universities who complained about their poor tuition would better have kept quiet (“Students give elite lecturers C minus”, News, last week). The unspoken deal at such places is that the lecturers get on with their research, leaving the teaching to their postgraduates, who have even less interest in lecturing, and the students can boast about attending a “Jane” Russell pile.
Professor Chris Barton, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire
Giant mistake
Your Mount Rushmore-style image of Tony Blair insults us (“In the shadow of giants”, Focus, last week). He was less than honest when justifying his intention to go to war in Iraq, and wanted to remake the Middle East, but look at the mess he created. It was his government that left us in financial straits. Blair is no giant, just a disaster for which we shall pay for generations.
Ralph Marshall, Bournemouth, Dorset
No, prime minister
It is a shame you equate Winston Churchill with the late and unlamented Margaret Thatcher and the humbug warmonger Blair.
W Jaspert, London W9
Having his cake
Thanks for the aerial picture of the Blair mansion, which looks like the Palace of Versailles (“Prince and millionaires sex up wedding of Blair’s son”, News, last week). So Euan Blair is aiming to stand as a Labour MP at the next election. How ironic. “Let them eat cake”?
Abigail Watson, Peterborough

Corrections and clarifications
In her interview with Nigel Farage (“The ‘fruitcake’ who found his voice”, Magazine, last week) Lynn Barber wrote that Mr Farage’s office door had the name of Lord McAlpine on it. This was an error and we apologise for the confusion. The building is, in fact, the office of the solicitors RMPI LLP.
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Dannie Abse, poet, 90; King Sunny Adé, musician, 67; Andrea Bocelli, tenor, 55; Nick Cave, rock singer and writer, 56; David Coverdale, rock singer, 62; Joan Jett, rock singer, 55; Rupert Penry-Jones, actor, 43; Sue Perkins, comedian, 44; Billie Piper, actress, 31; Ségolène Royal, politician, 60; Don Rutherford, first technical director of rugby for England, 76; Fay Weldon, author, 82

1896 Queen Victoria surpasses her grandfather King George III as the longest reigning monarch in British history; 1934 death of 266 miners and rescuers in a pit disaster at Gresford colliery, Wrexham; 1955 ITV goes live for the first time (at 7.15pm in the London region); 1980 Iraq invades Iran, triggering the 20th century’s longest war 


SIR – Your report on ugly fruit and veg (September 19) reminded me of my own experience. About 15 years ago I was on a Greek oil tanker in Libya, which I had piloted and was now loading. At the end of lunch a bowl of oranges was produced, which were odd sizes and partly green.
After eating one I told the captain, “That was the most delicious orange I have ever eaten.” The ship had previously been to Banias in Syria and the captain always bought several boxes. They were very cheap because Western supermarkets would not touch them due to their colour and irregular sizes.
How much more delicious fruit and veg do we miss and waste because of our silly supermarkets?
David Booth
Macclesfield, Cheshire
SIR – Clive Aslet’s assessment of the measures needed to address food distribution problems (Comment, September 19) ignores one pressing issue: the effect of developed countries’ policies on the population of the world who still go hungry. While a trigger point such as drought may be a natural phenomenon, the underlying cause of hunger is always man-made.
Hunger is, in fact, the result of a global food system that favours the wealthy at the expense of the very poor. From multinational companies grabbing land, to Western governments deepening climate change, we cannot ignore the impact of the rich world on global hunger.
Clare Coffey
Policy advisor, ActionAid
London EC1
SIR – I fear Nick Dearden (Letters, September 20) is wrong – most of Africa is kept poor by the egregious Common Agricultural Policies of the EU, which impose punitive tariffs on any agricultural exports. It is obvious that a region does not need to keep all it grows to prosper and eliminate hunger. Dismantling tariffs, and enabling African subsistence farmers to extract value from their land, will do more to eliminate poverty than any amount of aid, which encourage a culture of dependency and corruption.
Steve Willis
Olney, Buckinghamshire
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Ugly fruit and veg can be the most delicious
21 Sep 2013
SIR – There can be no happy ending without population control. Unsustainable population growth, particularly when accompanied by drought and famine, can have grim consequences for peace and stability. Take the example of Egypt. From 1973 to 2013, the Egyptian population rose from 28 to 82 million. As a result, Egypt, a former exporter of grain, now has to import 80 per cent of its food.
This is economically and politically disastrous for the 50 per cent or more of the population who are under 20 years old, poor, unemployed, and unable to understand why their political leaders have failed them. Chaotic disorder has resulted.
Elizabeth Marshall
SIR – Population pressures are only part of the challenge in my country. The real issue is the question of how we ensure women have access to contraception, control over their bodies and the education and rights to make their own life choices. Every minute a woman dies from either complications for pregnancy or childbirth. Women come to us bleeding and at the point of death having taken desperate measures to prevent giving birth to yet another child that they cannot feed.
We must empower women at the bottom of the political agenda with the means and knowledge to choose if, when and how many children they want.
Faustina Fynn-Nyame
Country Director, Marie Stopes International Ghana
London WC1
Preventing child abuse
SIR – In 1974 I was appointed to a panel of the newly reorganised East Sussex County Council to respond to the public inquiry report into the death of seven-year-old Maria Colwell, resulting from long-term parental cruelty. The death of Daniel Pelka fills me with an almost hopeless sense of déjà vu (“Police admit 27 chances to help tortured boy”, report, September 18).
Our report, Children at Risk, confirmed that a central feature of the tragedy was the failure of the responsible agencies to communicate with each other. The first person to raise serious alarms was Maria’s primary school teacher, who contacted the appropriate authorities – police, social services and doctors. Though enquiries were made, none of the bodies compared their findings. And as in Daniel’s case, no one apart from her teacher talked to Maria.
When presenting our report to the media, we said: “Lessons must be learnt.” That was almost 40 years ago.
Ann Moore
Whatlington, East Sussex
SIR – As a former nursery school principal, I would advise the authorities that it was always our policy to think the worst initially if a child displayed abnormal behaviour or appearance – and then hope to find on investigation that we were wrong.
Thankfully, we always were.
Beverley Buczacki
Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire
Pedestrian towns
SIR – We welcome Norman Baker MP’s support for prioritising pedestrians in town centres (report, September 17).
Living Streets’ new report, The Pedestrian Pound, released this week, shows that investment in public realm improvements can boost footfall and trading by up to 40 per cent. Pedestrians stay longer and spend up to six times more than people arriving by car, yet this is largely ignored by politicians and policy makers.
Healthy high streets are full of people. The Government needs to invest in and support good quality public spaces where people can easily and conveniently arrive and move around on foot.
Tony Armstrong
Chief executive, Living Streets
Chris Wade
Chief executive, Action for Market Towns
Martin Blackwell
Chief executive, Association of Town Centre Management
Bill Grimsey
Retail specialist
Ian Harvey
Civic Voice
Dave Chetwyn
Chair, Historic Towns Forum
Sophia da Sousa
Chief executive, The Glass-House Community Led Design
Rosanna Downes
Campaigns and Communications Manager, Living Streets
Responsible drinking
SIR – John Talman (Letters, September 20) calls for a media campaign to promote responsible drinking and discourage alcohol misuse. But we already have such campaigns, and all alcohol advertising already includes these messages anyway. But to what effect?
Tomorrow sees the first Manchester derby of the season. The police have asked city centre supermarkets not to sell alcohol before or during the football match. I find this ironic, given how important alcohol marketing is to football and its coverage.
Dr Alex May
Christmas comes early
SIR – C M Laughton’s experience of early Christmas puddings and mince pies on sale (Letters, September 19) is matched by our local garden centre, which was putting the final touches yesterday to its vast display of Christmas trees, decorations, candles, crackers and Santa’s grotto.
Do retailers not realise that, by exploiting the festive season over three months, the outcome for many is a feeling of anticlimax when December 25 finally arrives?
Dr Malcolm Greenhalgh
Lowton, Lancashire
Putting up with veils
SIR – Imam Dr Taj Hargey (Letters, September 18) writes eloquently and persuasively as to why it is not necessary for Muslims to wear the niqab or the burka, but he misses the fundamental point.
Britain has a proud tradition of persuading, not telling people to do things. It is why the shrinking numbers of Morris dancers have not been forced underground and members have not been radicalised into disrupting village fetes with spoiling tactics.
Banning anything is deeply offensive to the British psyche. In the past 50 years we have had to put up with teddy boys, rockers, skinheads, punks and Russell Brand. I am sure we can cope with some people who choose to wear the veil.
Dick Corbett
Winchester, Hampshire
SIR – I wonder how many people are aware that the late President of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, banned the wearing of the veil in the souk in Damascus when he was in power?
Peter Shepheard
Poole, Dorset
Online exams
SIR – David Hanson is right that today’s assessment system is hopelessly outdated (“Ditch pen and paper. Schools chief predicts online exams in 10 years”, report, September 20). The current one-size-fits-all approach, targeted towards one day of exams at the end of the year, lets down the vast majority of students.
Technology and online assessment will both save money and drive up attainment, but the real promise lies in personalised learning. The potential to use technology to track, understand and analyse children’s learning in real time means what you teach each child can be differentiated on the basis of their abilities and weaknesses.
The drive towards online assessment is a long-awaited first step. What is needed now is to embrace technology to develop a truly holistic approach to teaching.
Gareth Davies
Managing Director, Frog
Halifax, West Yorkshire
Days to remember
SIR – I have a childhood diary written in 1957 when I was 14 years old. My entry for June 27 1957 just says: “I’ll never forget today.” Fifty-six years later, and I have no memory of why that day was so special.
Valerie Gellman
Stanmore, Middlesex
How will Scotland deal with its share of debt?
SIR – The British national debt is presently one trillion pounds, and Scotland’s share of that will be about £100 billion or £20,000 for every man, woman and child.
After independence, that debt would become real. Simply walking away from it would not be an option.
How would an independent Scotland even service such a debt, let alone repay it? Before we vote in the referendum, Scotland’s First Minister – who has never provided hard facts about the financial implications of independence – should explain how he proposes to deal with this situation.
Malcolm Parkin
Kinnesswood, Kinross-shire
SIR – It is now one year to the referendum. I am still waiting for someone to explain to me why a 16-year-old in Scotland can help decide the fate of my nation while I, as a 70-year-old Englishman, cannot.
Roger Hannaford
Haddenham, Buckinghamshire
SIR – Whatever its origins, the Union Flag in its present form has been the emblem of the British people and Britishness for 212 years. That will not be changed if a majority of people voting in next year’s referendum choose to separate themselves from it.
In any event, there are some millions of Scots people living in England or abroad with British passports who will not have a vote on the issue. It is doubtful if many will trade their British citizenship for a new untested Scottish citizenship.
Frederick May
Oldham, Lancashire
SIR – Am I wrong in thinking that if Scotland gains independence, the current Scottish MPs will no longer be eligible to sit in Westminster? Surely this will reduce the number of Labour MPs considerably and leave the Conservatives as the largest party in Westminster.
Anne Stern
Henfield, West Sussex

Irish Times:

Sir, – The Government’s poster campaign panders to the worst kind of bargain basement flippancy.
Posters shriek, “Save €20 million”. Well, it’s a “saving” only if you put no value on checks and balances to mitigate the worst excesses of political centralisation.
“Fewer politicians”, the posters proclaim. This is rank populism. Note that it is not fewer Dáil politicians, which would make a lot more sense, it’s those pesky Senators who are that bit further from the control of the party whips.
The most recent one is a classic poster-rant against “Elitism”. They seem unable to see that “elitism” is not an argument against a second chamber; it’s an argument in favour of a reform of its membership.
In any event, think of the names of some of this supposed “elite” – Prof John Crown, Dr Sean Barrett, Fergal Quinn. One doesn’t have to agree with any or all of them, but they do bring expertise and commitment and independence to the governance of this country. Does anyone seriously think that most of these people would be seen dead around the kind of nonsense committees that the Government is proposing ?
There is a whiff of panic about the Government’s campaign. It deserves to be rebuffed for, once again, patronising voters with glib and facile posters. – Yours, etc,
Co Wicklow.
Sir, – The Taoiseach has persisted in peddling a false historical narrative throughout the referendum campaign to abolish the Seanad. He repeated it yet again in his Irish Times piece yesterday: “I came to the conclusion that the Seanad was unreformable – 10 attempts at reform in its 75 years all failed” (“Chance for new politics to embrace real change”, Opinion & Analysis, September 20th).
The premise of this political argument is that the Upper House is incapable of ever being reformed because it has never been reformed and therefore the only logical response is to get rid of it. This is a persuasive position when stacked against the plethora of unimplemented proposals over the years.
But it is simply not true.
Seán MacEntee, Dr James Ryan, Erskine H Childers, James Dillon, Patrick McGilligan and William Norton published a cross-party report on Seanad reform in 1947. As a consequence, the then taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, exercised his political will and introduced the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947.
The Act forms the basis for elections to the Seanad today. It defined what constituted a nominating body. The franchise was extended. The electoral college was tripled. The corruption that had notoriously plagued Seanad elections was stopped with separate election and ballot papers for each panel. The composition of each of the five vocational panels and procedures for the election of 43 members are laid down by the Act, as were the division of each panel into two sub-panels – the nominating bodies sub-panel and the Oireachtas sub-panel.
The only reason these reforms came about was because de Valera decided to implement them. There may well be legitimate arguments to terminate Ireland’s second house of parliament but it is an utter fallacy to suggest that it is unreformable. History shows that the power of the executive is such that only the taoiseach of the day can ultimately introduce reform. It is not the fault of unimplemented reports but the failure of leadership.
My paper on how and why the 1947 Seanad reform came about can be accessed from the historyhub.ie special series on the Seanad referendum. – Yours, etc,
Global Irish Studies Centre,

Sir, – Dan O’Brien clearly took offence at President Michael D Higgins’s recent speech at Dublin City University (“Presidency ill-served by economic partisanship”, Business, September 20th). In particular he was offended by the use of the concept “neoliberal”. I agree with your columnist that this is a relatively innocuous term but Mr O’Brien’s analysis was more polemic than analytic. The term “neoliberal” is increasingly used in political science to describe the paradigm shift away from demand-managed macroeconomics, during the Keynesian era, to the supply-side oriented revolution in economics during the period of financial market expansion.
Using the concept to describe broadly a paradigm shift does not imply that there is no variation in how economies are organised in contemporary capitalist societies, nor does it imply an “us” versus “them” mentality. It is used extensively in many European-based political economy research projects. The international financial cum sovereign debt crisis was caused by the reckless behaviour of private market actors.
President Higgins should be commended for his bravery to confront the intellectual hubris that accompanied this. – Yours, etc,
Max Planck Institute for the
Study of Societies,
Sir, – Having read and been greatly impressed by President Higgins’s address “Towards an Ethical Economy” at DCU, I strongly disagreed with Dan O’Brien’s comments on it but was dismayed at his dismissal of the President for being “increasingly political and partisan”.
What most impressed me in the President’s address was his interweaving of ethical reasoning and economic thought, showing himself so conversant with some of the most cutting-edge thinking in the field of international political economy. Far from being “highly ideological and one-sided”, President Higgins manages to cut through the fog of ideological obfuscation to situate our present crisis in a longer-term historical trajectory and to remind us of what should be the objective of all economic activity, namely human flourishing.
Having taught international political economy and international development studies both in Ireland and abroad for over 25 years, I can assure Mr O’Brien that the President’s analysis reflects mainstream thinking in these disciplines. Far from being ideological, the term “neo-liberal” has been extensively scientifically analysed to distinguish it from classical economic liberalism. That those who espouse these approaches to organising the economy don’t accept this term is entirely beside the point.
However, what is most disturbing is to find the President’s efforts to foster real deliberative debate about these most crucial of issues dismissed as being in some way illegitimate. Mr O’Brien may disagree with the President’s analysis but let him engage with the substance of the issues rather than dismissing the messenger. – Yours, etc,
Co Tipperary.
Sir, – Heavens above, what are we to do? Our President keeps the intellectual company of the likes of Jürgen Habermas, Michel Foucault and Kathleen Lynch of UCD. Everyone check under your beds tonight, there’s bound to be some reds lurking there. This country is surely heading for disaster.
Many thanks to Dan O’Brien for giving me a good laugh over breakfast. – Yours, etc,
Golden bridge Avenue,
Dublin 8.

Sir, – I have respected Donald Clarke’s writings as a film critic in the past , but with his “Good people often rise late” column (Opinion & Analysis, September 14th) he has become my hero.
Born at 12:30pm 81 years ago, I have spent a lifetime attempting to conform to day/night patterns while being a biological night owl. As a student, employee, wife, mother, even as a volunteer, one must be an early bird, and thus suffer the slings and arrows of those who cloak themselves “in moral superiority”.
But after my early-bird husband retired and we moved to Ireland in 1992, I learned the technique and have been wallowing in my frowned-upon habit for years; friends know and accept my idiosyncrasy and dare not phone me before afternoon, yet I am constantly asked to explain why.
Thus I will distribute Mr Clarke’s article to everyone who has asked, and with it I may even quote from the Wallace Stevens poem Night: “The house was quiet and the world was calm.” – Yours, etc,
Ard na Lir,

A chara, – I read with interest the coverage of the HIQA report on the standards of hand hygiene among staff in St James’s Hospital (“Non-compliance with hand hygiene in hospitals getting worse”, Home News, September 20th).
I eagerly await the report on hand hygiene practices among patients and their visitors. Naturally, germs are not transported by staff alone. Furthermore, I also await the response of the private-sector contractors that are paid to clean the hospital, especially with respect to “unclean shower tray and a mould-like substance on shower tiles”. – Yours, etc,
Priory Grove,
Stillorgan, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Come back, Pontius Pilate, all is forgiven. – Yours, etc,
Elm Mount,

Irish Independent:

* NAMA has said in the past week that it has identified some 40,000 homes in their possession as possible social housing units with 2,000 being made available over the next three years. This is a joke and will not make a dent in the 98,000 families on the list for social housing. That so many families are on the social housing list is a great shame and shows that not everyone suckled at the teat of the Celtic Tiger.
Also in this section
A la carte Catholics have their cake and eat it
Who is calling the shots in this country?
Recovery lies in education of our children
Boarded-up council houses are a common site in many estates in Ireland.
At a time now when people are struggling to pay rents, and working families are losing their private homes, it is vital that the local authorities invest in the future.
Like so many others, I have the great distinction of being on the list. Yes, the ever-growing council housing list is probably the only thing that has seen growth in the troika economy and yet, as it grows, the opportunities dwindle. You see the local authorities have no funding for such grand-scale projects and have no problem telling you such if you go to inquire about your location on the list. It makes me wonder where the household charge and the property tax go?
I recently talked to a very nice lady in the housing department of my local authority and asked if I could know where my family of two adults and three children was on the list.
She told me no plans were in place to provide new units in the future as the funding was just not there. I accepted what she had to say and pointed out that there was a boarded-up house in my chosen area and that it had been boarded up for over a year. She said there were a number of boarded-up properties around the county that would cost between €3,000 and €35,000 to repair but that money wasn’t there.
I am no building or budget expert but I know that if a house is boarded up and left vacant for a time, it would cost more to do it up later because of damp and vandalism. Would it not be better to invest the money to get a house up to standard so that it can be rented and then maintained by a tenant? The saying that “ya gotta spend money to make money” is never more relevant than now.
When will the powers-that-be see that if you invest in people and not in toxic banks, the rewards could be far greater?
Sean Hayes
Kilmihil, Co Mayo
* Dermot Ryan has joined the Germany-are-the-villains type of analysis that has been promulgated for the past number of years in this country (Letters, September 19) – and in doing so he is ignoring how this country went bankrupt.
Put simply, the most powerful citizens in this country made decisions during the Celtic Tiger era that bankrupted the country. Blaming the Germans just distracts attention from the fact that our crisis is homegrown and needs to be dealt with here.
Dermot Ryan even challenges the need for austerity, saying its basis “has no legal foundation”. If a government spending a billion a month more than it is taking in taxes is not legal justification enough, I do not know what is.
Peddling anti-German fallacies as a substitute for dealing with problems caused by our own most powerful citizens during the Celtic Tiger period is just an extreme form of denial.
A Leavy
Sutton, Dublin 13
* Ireland could play a vital role in the peacekeeping process in Syria. We have had Irish UN observers based in Syria and the Syrian Golan Heights in the past.
In cases such as this, the quick deployment of the initial phase of the peacekeeping forces becomes very important and can involve the transfer of existing UN troops from neighbouring missions. This happened in 1973 when four battalions of UN troops, including an Irish unit, in which I was serving, were transferred from Cyprus into the Sinai Desert to form a successful buffer zone between the armies of Israel and Egypt.
If UN peacekeepers are required for Syria, Irish/UN troops in Lebanon and the soldiers on standby to go the Golan Heights could be quickly relocated to a new Syrian peacekeeping mission. Of course, there would be dangers, but our brothers and sisters in Syria urgently deserve a situation where their own military and militias and the international community shift from war-mongering to peace-mongering.
Edward Horgan (Commandant retired)
Newtown, Castletroy, Limerick
* In March 2009, Ireland seized €4bn from its pension reserve fund in order to rescue its banks. In November 2010, the remaining savings of €2.5bn were seized to support the bailout.
In December 2010, Hungary told its citizens that they could either remit their private pension money to the state or lose their state pension funds (but still have to pay for it).
In November 2010, the French parliament decided to earmark €33bn from the national reserve pension fund, the FRR, to reduce the short-term pension scheme deficit.
In early January 2011, $60m (€44.4m) in private retirement funds were transferred to the state’s pension scheme in Bulgaria. They wanted to transfer $300m (€220m) but were denied on their first attempt
And, of course, this spring, Cyprus took it a step further and confiscated up to 50pc of the funds from bank account holders in that country.
Last week, the Polish government announced it would transfer to the state (aka ‘confiscate’) the bulk of government-backed assets, like bonds, owned by the country’s private pension funds (many of them owned by such foreign firms as PIMCO parent Allianz, AXA, Generali, ING and Aviva), without offering any compensation.
Is it any wonder the belief that our media is censored is gaining traction?
James Maher
Name and address with editor
* On December 15, 1920, the British cabinet, chaired by Lloyd George, agreed to set up second chambers in Stormont and the southern parliament. The southern senate would have 64 members. It was to include 17 senators nominated by the Lord Lieutenant representing commerce, labour and the scientific and learned professors.
The reason given was to give “some protection to a Protestant minority”. This was its sole purpose.
The Irish senate is a relic of that settlement. Why can the Northern Assembly get by with one chamber but we must mirror the British and have two?
Barry Keane
Glendalough Park, Cork
* We are suffering from an emotional disconnect where bullying has become sadly prevalent in all sectors of society.
Some people would say you got to “harden up”, but do we really think that a hardened society is a pleasant place to live?
It’s like the American gun solution to gun crime. Let’s all live in a constant state of wariness.
People have talked for years now about emotional intelligence.
EQ is basically the IQ that allows us to live not only sanely but also happily.
In many schools worldwide, pilot programmes are encouraging schoolchildren to interact with their emotions and talk about their problems; the idea is to help young people address problems, rather than let them fester.
Such an initiative can only bring benefit to our society.
The aim is to figure out the frustration and anger that is driving our kids to bully others, because happy people don’t bully.
As for the kids out there, life is too short to be unhappy. Tell your parents, tell your teachers – it may not get much better but at least you won’t be alone in this.
Pauline Bleach
New South Wales, Australia


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