17 December 2013 Bank

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Heather is demanding a date for her marriage to Lesley. Troutbridge is sent out to pick up the Admirals Priceless.

Potter around go to the bank the post office and the Co Op

Scrabbletoday Mary wins but both of us under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Joan Fontaine, who has died aged 96, was the younger sister of Olivia de Havilland – with whom she maintained a lifelong feud – and indelibly associated with the lead role in the film of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1940).

It was not that film, however, for which she won her only Academy Award but another, lesser Alfred Hitchcock picture, Suspicion, made the following year. In 1940, she had been unexpectedly beaten to the Oscar by Ginger Rogers in a non-musical role in Kitty Foyle and it was thought that, in giving her the Oscar for Suspicion, Academy members were seeking primarily to make amends.

The award added fuel to the intense rivalry between Joan Fontaine and her sister. In 1941, one of Joan Fontaine’s rival nominees as best actress (and seated at the same table) was Olivia de Havilland for her role in Hold Back the Dawn. When Fontaine was declared the winner, de Havilland recalled thinking: “Oh, my God! I’ve lost prestige with my own sister. And it was true. She was haughty to me after that.”

Five years later, when Olivia de Havilland won the first of her two Oscars for To Each His Own (1946), she paid her sister back in her own coin. As Olivia left the stage clutching her award, Joan Fontaine extended a hand in congratulation. Olivia swept past.

Much later, in 1961, Joan Fontaine attempted to mend bridges and invited her sister to stay for Christmas. The experiment was never repeated. “There would be a slight problem of temperament,” Joan explained. “In fact, it would be bigger than Hiroshima.”

To audiences, Joan Fontaine became so identified with Rebecca that many believed she played the title-role. Actually, Rebecca was Maxim de Winter’s first wife and the Joan Fontaine character was never named. She had not been first choice for the part. Vivien Leigh, Margaret Sullavan, Anne Baxter and Loretta Young had already been tested for it and all had support within the Selznick studio. The boss, however, favoured Fontaine and backed his hunch, even in the face of director Alfred Hitchcock’s misgivings.

Though by no means an inexperienced player, Fontaine was diffident and overawed on the set — traits on which Hitchcock capitalised. He bullied and belittled her, constantly reminding her that her co-star, Laurence Olivier, had wanted Vivien Leigh to play the role. The effect was to undermine what little self-confidence Joan Fontaine had at that stage, making her shy, reticent, mousy and hunch-shouldered. It was a characteristic, if sadistic Hitchcock technique that produced exactly the right performance. Vulnerable and timid, Joan Fontaine simply became the part.

Suspicion, in which Fontaine played a similar role as a newly-wed whose husband may be a murderer, again tapped those traits. She feared being typecast, however, and in a long career made only one more film that called for these qualities — Max Ophüls’s Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Uncoincidentally, it was one of her best.

The main thrust of her career was governed by what she saw as her range and potential, of which she was seldom the best judge. She relished playing femmes fatales in such films as Ivy (1947) and Born to Be Bad (1950); she remained convinced, against the evidence of Decameron Nights (1953) and Casanova’s Big Night (1954), of her comic gifts; and she unwisely accepted the role of Lady Rowena in Ivanhoe (1952) — the statuesque Anglo-Saxon beauty who gets her man but loses sympathy to her tragic rival, the dark and sultry Elizabeth Taylor (ironically called Rebecca in the film). In these productions she was at best wasted, at worst miscast. It was unfortunate that she encountered her shrewdest mentors — David O Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock — early in her career. Ophüls apart, their successors were less perceptive.

Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland was born in Tokyo on October 22 1917, a year after her sister Olivia. Her English father, Walter A de Havilland, a cousin of the aircraft manufacturer, was variously credited as a teacher and a patent lawyer. He seems, in any case, to have been something of a braggart, living the life of an expat, with copious tales of winning a rowing blue at Cambridge and being descended from Norman ancestors on the island of Guernsey.

Joan’s parents divorced soon after she was born and her mother moved to Saratoga, California, where she remarried in 1925. For professional purposes, Joan Fontaine eventually adopted the name of her stepfather, George Fontaine, leaving sister Olivia, who had already made her début, to retain the family name.

Joan was a delicate and introspective child and at the age of 15 doctors recommended a sea voyage back to Tokyo in order that she could see her father and learn to mix with people. This proved partly successful. She engaged in amateur theatricals and discovered her vocation, but she could not abide her new Japanese stepmother and, in 1934, returned to California.

At first she experimented with a variety of stage names, including Joan St John and Joan Burfield. Her theatrical début was in 1935 in Kind Lady, followed by a production of Call It a Day. At this play, the movie mogul Jesse Lasky went backstage on opening night and instantly signed her to a contract.

Her early years in Hollywood, however, were not encouraging. Her first role (as Joan Burfield) was a bit part in the Joan Crawford vehicle No More Ladies (1935) and her contract was soon sold on to RKO. Between 1937 and 1939 she appeared in 12 largely forgotten films, beginning with a cameo in Quality Street (1937) opposite Katharine Hepburn. These included two musicals in 1937 — Music for Madame with Nino Manfredi and A Damsel in Distress with Fred Astaire, in which she played an English aristocrat. Her dancing was confined to a single number in order not to invite unfavourable comparison with Fred’s regular partner, Ginger Rogers.

Along with half of Hollywood, Fontaine tested for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), when George Cukor was to have been the director. She did not get the part but was offered the supporting role of the goody-goody Melanie. Regarding this as an insult, she responded tartly: “If it’s a Melanie you want, call Olivia.” Unintentionally she thus handed her sister one of her best loved roles.

After the audition and his own departure from the picture, Cukor remembered her and cast her in one of the few sympathetic roles in his film The Women (1939). That she held her own in this all-woman comedy against the combined talents of Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Norma Shearer and Paulette Goddard stood her in good stead and Cukor recommended her to David O Selznick when he was casting Rebecca.

Fontaine’s rapid rise to fame in Rebecca and Suspicion was never fully consolidated. Well cast at first in follow-up roles in The Constant Nymph (1943) and Jane Eyre (1944), she allowed herself to be tempted by another, less suitable Daphne du Maurier role as the wilful Restoration aristocrat in Frenchman’s Creek (1945) who brings buccaneer Arturo de Cordova to heel. It cost $4 million (profligate by standards of the time) but failed to find an audience.

She continued to work with top-flight directors such as Billy Wilder in the Viennese confection The Emperor Waltz (1948); George Stevens in Something to Live For (1951), a study of alcoholism; and Fritz Lang in the thriller Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956); but these were far from their best work. Her other films of the time are barely remembered.

Only Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) broke the pattern. Adapted from a bittersweet Viennese story by Stefan Zweig, it had a pronounced European flavour and was the most elegant film Austrian director Max Ophüls made in Hollywood. The story of a young girl who spends one night of love with a young musician, bears his child and writes to him years later though he does not even remember her name, it drew on Joan Fontaine’s best qualities as an actress and is now regarded as her finest performance.

Unhappily, it never received an adequate release. It was produced by Rampart Productions, a small company she had formed with her second husband, William Dozier, but distributors had no faith in it, relegating it to out-of-town slots as a second feature. It was thanks only to crusading work by the British magazine Sequence that the film was rescued from oblivion­­ .

Unlike Letter from an Unknown Woman, which was the acme of romanticism but left the public cold, September Affair (1950) was a 10-hankie job that had shopgirls sobbing all the way to the last bus home. An artificial tale of lovers who seek a new life together after being presumed dead in an air crash, it owed much of its success to an astute use of the Walter Huston version of September Song as a theme tune.

Joan Fontaine’s 1953 film The Bigamist possessed a certain piquancy by virtue of being almost a family affair. It was written by Collier Young, her third husband, who had formerly been married to Ida Lupino. In the film, Fontaine and Lupino play Edmond O’Brien’s two wives and Lupino was the director. The material, alas, proved pedestrian.

One of Fontaine’s meatier roles was in Serenade (1956), in which Mario Lanza was her toyboy. In James M Cain’s novel the character was a man and the part had originally been offered to Tallulah Bankhead. Hints of daring in Fontaine’s later films, however, were more apparent than real. The film of Alec Waugh’s bestseller Island in the Sun (1957) was considered audacious at the time in casting Fontaine opposite Harry Belafonte, though these mixed-race lovers were strictly of the sweethearts variety. A Certain Smile (1958) was based on the sexually frank novel by the precocious French writer Françoise Sagan, but Fontaine was sidelined in the role of Latin lover Rossano Brazzi’s understanding wife.

While shooting that film, she contracted a neurasthenic disease that interrupted her career for three years. She returned in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), a nuclear submarine adventure in which she suffers a lethal dose of gamma rays before passing it on to the sea monster that eats her. As a film star, time was running out. Only a cameo role (but star billing) followed in an ill-fated version of Tender is the Night (1961) and, five years later, a Hammer horror called The Witches (1966).

She toyed with returning to the stage. In 1954, she had replaced Deborah Kerr in the Broadway production of Tea and Sympathy, but a shoulder injury forced her to withdraw. Subsequently, she appeared in Dial M for Murder in summer stock and on tour in South Africa, The Lion in Winter in Vienna and Relative Values, the opening attraction at Chicago’s Arlington Park Theatre. She also appeared intermittently on television and in 1978 wrote her autobiography, No Bed of Roses.

She married first, in 1939, the actor Brian Aherne. Four years into that marriage, she asked him how long they had been together and, on being told, exclaimed: “My God! I never meant to stay married to you that long.” In 1946 she married the producer William Dozier, with whom she had a daughter, Deborah, born in 1948. This marriage, too, was dissolved, in 1951. Her third and fourth husbands were Collier Young, whom she married in 1952, and, briefly, from 1964, the sports magazine editor Alfred Wright Jr.

In 1951, between husbands, Joan Fontaine adopted a five-year-old Peruvian girl, Martita Pareja, whom she had met on a tour of the Andes and whose father was caretaker of the ruins at Machu Picchu. Fontaine, however, seemed to regard the incident as a shopping expedition for exotic curios. “I put this golden-skinned, green-eyed baby in a suitcase and took her home,” she said. Unsurprisingly, the arrangement lasted only 10 years. They separated when Joan Fontaine moved to New York, while Martita remained on a farm in Maine. They never shared the same roof again. Joan Fontaine is survived by her sister.

Joan Fontaine, born October 22 1917, died December 15 2013


When standing for the Labour leadership, Ed Miliband described his party’s previous support for expansion at Heathrow as “a mistake”. Before the election David Cameron told voters, “no ifs, no buts, no third runway”, (Heathrow third runway being pushed ahead by government, says Goldsmith, 11 December). Howard Davies’s commission bears all the hallmarks of a political manoeuvre to conceal the real intentions of politicians who don’t want to give voters a choice on this issue before the election because they know how unpopular airport expansion remains. Millions of pounds have been spent by the aviation industry re-spinning the same flawed arguments about lack of capacity at Heathrow, while ignoring the fact that London already has five airports with six runways – more than our alleged competitors have, or are, planning.

If you include the social costs – the noise, pollution, community destruction and the climate-change impact – no genuinely independent commission could come to the conclusion that a third runway at Heathrow, let alone a fourth, could ever be a good idea. Aviation emissions are still outside the international legal frameworks on cutting carbon pollution, despite the industry being one of the fastest growing contributors to climate change. Heathrow expansion would add to local traffic and rail congestion, as well as air pollution, which already exceeds international limits. Party leaders must come clean with voters about their real positions on this issue before the election – and explain how expanding one of the world’s most polluting airports could ever be consistent with building a low-carbon economy.
John Sauven Executive director,
Greenpeace UK
Stephen Joseph Chief executive,
Campaign for Better Transport

In September you ran a web story about the Innocent Smoothie Big Knit which involves hundreds, possibly thousands of people throughout the UK knitting tiny woollen hats for smoothie bottles. The hatted bottles are sold in Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s and other supermarkets and coffee shops with 25p from each one going to Age UK. About 600 knitters belong to the Innocent Smoothie Big Knit Facebook page and exchange photos of hats, comments etc. It is all very friendly. It has come to our attention that hats are turning up on eBay for sale. Some are quite elaborate hats which have not been seen in the shops, so we are wondering where they are coming from. It is perfectly legal to sell on eBay something you have purchased legally. But eBay buyers should know that the hats they are buying for £26 or more were available in Sainsbury’s at two for £3. Innocent has told us that 1m hats were donated, allowing £250,000 to be passed to Age UK. You can check the Facebook page under Innocent Smoothie Big Knit, and the hats on eBay under Smoothie Big Knit hats.
Gwyneth Rogers

The laws on prostitution should certainly be reviewed and changed, but not in the way suggested (Britain could become ‘magnet for prostitution’, 12 December). Activities related to prostitution, such as running a brothel, should be decriminalised so that women and men who work as prostitutes are not treated as criminals. But people who purchase sex should not be criminalised as long as they have sex with a consenting adult. If they have sex with a minor or someone who has been forced into prostitution through trafficking, violence, threats, coercion or grooming, then they are not having sex with a consenting adult. We already have a law to deal with that – it is rape; we do not need new laws we just need the rape law to be enforced.

If we decriminalise activities related to prostitution, those who choose to work as prostitutes will more readily be able to report cases where they think there is abuse and help the police to take action to protect those people who have been forced into prostitution. But if we criminalise the purchaser, we will further endanger prostitutes because they will have to work in areas where the purchaser feels less likely to be seen and because the prostitutes will have less time to assess a potential client.

In the early 1990s I lived on the edge of a red-light district and wanted to put an end to something which seemed exploitative and against everything which I stood for as a feminist. Criminalising the people who buy sex seemed the obvious answer. But I worked with colleagues and we talked with police, prostitutes (male and female), health workers, local residents, indeed anyone with a point of view. It became clear that criminalising the purchaser would make matters worse, indeed all the laws around prostitution were making matters worse for prostitutes and for residents of the red-light districts. The licensing route which other countries had gone down was also seen not to work. It was clear to us that decriminalisation was the best way to ensure prostitutes’ safety and health and to relieve the undoubted problems faced by residents.

I hope that the all-party parliamentary group on prostitution will consult widely and with an open mind.
Charlotte Cane
Reach, Cambridgeshire

• Those advocating the introduction of the Swedish model are not considering the voices of sex workers or the overwhelming evidence that any further criminalisation of sex workers will only serve to increase the stigma, drive sex workers underground, forcing them into more risky transactions, and make them far less likely to engage with health services. This is what has happened in Sweden and health professionals are reporting that sex workers are not accessing their services.

The tragic murder in Sweden of sex worker and activist Petite Jasmine, who had been hounded by the Swedish authorities and denied her rights as a mother, shows stigma can be fatal. Those advocating the adoption of the regressive laws of the failed Swedish model are ignoring the voices of sex workers, academics and most of those providing health care and support to sex workers who are united in the belief that this would harm sex workers in all sectors.
Alex Bryce
Manager, National Ugly Mugs Scheme 

• I assume your photograph is supposed to represent a prostitute from the knees down. If you believe that only prostitutes wear boots with stiletto heels, black skirts and fishnet tights you need to get out more.
Elizabeth Barber

The case of Victor Nealon, freed after serving 17 years in prison on the strength of DNA evidence (Report, 14 December) highlights the risks of miscarriages of justice in a small number of cases. At present the victims of such outcomes are entitled to compensation, but the government intends to change the law by requiring a claimant to prove, in effect, that he was not guilty of the offence, essentially proving a negative. The Lords returns to this issue next month when I move an amendment at report stage to the anti-social behaviour, police and crime bill. Widespread concern was expressed about the government’s proposals during the bill’s committee stage in a debate on an amendment I moved and this recent case and the court of appeal’s judgment when published are likely to heighten interest in what would be an unfortunate and retrograde step.
Jeremy Beecham
Shadow justice minister, House of Lords

• It’s bad enough that Victor Nealon should have been imprisoned for 17 years for an offence for which the court of appeal has found he should not have been convicted. That the Parole Board should have refused to consider him for release for year after year beyond his minimum term because he consistently denied his guilt is to compound the wrong done to him.

It’s understandable the board should want to reward those who admit their guilt and express remorse, but they should recognise that penitence can be simulated and, even if genuine at the time, hardly diminishes the likelihood of reoffending. And it must be wrong if the requirement of penitence also means the innocent incur such additional penalty when they deny guilt.

This is not the first time that the board has committed this injustice. It should never do it again – as I hope the court of appeal will recommend in its full judgment. All praise to the Guardian for highlighting Nealon’s case in your Justice on Trial series.
Edmund Gray

My thanks to Tom Locke in Burntisland for prompting me to retrieve and read 11 December’s Country diary, which I’d missed. The description of bluebottles’ last stand before winter destruction was indeed superb, but Paul Evans was not alone in bringing poetry to these often despised creatures – see Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, chapter 14.
Bill May
Kirkcaldy, Fife

• The Guardian does seem to find it hard to write positive things about the education secretary. However, a friend who works for the blood transfusion service tells me that if they have problems finding a vein for their needle they just ask the potential donor (particularly if he or she happens to be in the teaching profession) to think of Michael Gove. This raises the pressure immediately and an appropriate vein can usually be found with ease. So perhaps he has a value after all.
Ron Brewer
Old Buckenham, Norfolk

•  I would be more impressed with Dartford station’s ability to put up a blue plaque to the meeting of Mick Jagger Keith and Richards (In praise of, 16 December) if it could manage to bring in a newsagent. Since the new ticket hall opened in August there has not been anywhere to buy the Guardian despite two empty shop spaces waiting to be filled.
Carol Gould

• It gave me great satisfaction to read John Crace’s rather snide perspective of the submariners’ cold war (Last night’s TV, 14 December). First, that I remain able to read it, and, second, that he is free to write it.
Commander James Grant, Royal Navy (Retd)

• And what about the 5 December (Letters, 16 December)? 5, 12, 13 are the sides of a right-angled triangle.
Dudley Turner
Westerham, Kent

•  Ratching through our raggedy-baggedy decorations we recently unearthed your Quentin Blake cut-out-and-fold angel, who is about to spend a fifth Christmas topping our tree. Is this a record for Guardian give-away ephemera?
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

There will be savings as well as costs if consultants work weekends (NHS chief Bruce Keogh wants senior doctors to work at weekends, 16 December). I was taken to A&E on a Friday evening; I knew I was having a heart attack but the ECGs were inconclusive. On Saturday morning, the enzyme test confirmed the heart attack and I was admitted to the cardiac ward, where the consultant in charge was a gastroenterologist, who didn’t see me. For two days I suffered chest pain requiring oxygen, GTN medication and considerable attention from the senior cardiac nurse, plus constant ECG monitoring. On Monday morning a cardiologist arrived, rapidly diagnosed a rare(ish) disorder leading to a split in the lining of my coronary artery, had me whisked off by ambulance to the centre of excellence where a stent was inserted. I was discharged the next day.

Had a cardiologist been on duty on the Saturday he would have saved the cost of his wages simply by reducing my stay in an acute care bed by two days. I would have been saved the pain and worry though I still wonder what would have happened if my condition had worsened and there had been no one available to fit a stent. Perhaps I would never have bothered the NHS again.
Helen Mullineux
Roydon, Essex

•  Virtually all consultants in acute specialties, ie responsible for the care of patients requiring urgent care, already work at weekends. Many are classed as being “on call” – a misnomer, as on call duties involve daily rounds of all sick and newly admitted patients as well as attending patients at the time of admission throughout the day and night. In many cases this is in addition to a full weekday commitment – with a maximum of 48 hours’ pay but often much more hours work. Other senior doctors in the busiest specialties, notably adult general medicine, emergency medicine and paediatric medicine are rostered to work part of their contracted hours on long Saturday and Sunday shifts with an unsocial hours payment that is eclipsed by the hours of unpaid work after the notional end of the shift.

The issue is not whether doctors refuse to work at weekends – though most prefer not to, like anyone else with family or caring commitments. The issue is whether Professor Keogh’s £2.2bn will be enough to pay for not only the doctors but also the other clinical staff needed for seven-day round-the-clock care. And, crucially, how will we recruit the extra staff when many of the existing posts, especially in medium-sized hospitals, are currently unfilled or filled by agency staff of variable quality?
Geraldine Boocock
Retired consultant and medical director, Ormskirk, Lancashire

• Much has been made of the paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine that showed a “significantly” increased risk of dying within 30 days of admission to hospital if you are admitted at the weekend compared with being admitted on a Wednesday. For every 100 deaths within 30 days of admission on a Wednesday there would be 116 deaths among patients admitted on a Sunday –the reported 16% increase. But the reality is that, out of 14.2 million admissions looked at, the overall death rate was just under 285,000, which equated to about 2% of total admissions. If a Wednesday admission carries with it an “average” 30-day mortality rate of 2%, then a Sunday admission would carry with it a risk of 2.32%. In other words, if you are admitted on a Wednesday your chances of still being alive after 30 days would be 98%. On a Sunday your chances of still being alive in 30 days would be 97.68%. Put lWhen pike that it seems to me that there is little to be scared of.

I am not against the notion of a 24/7 NHS but that will require vast investment – not just in doctors but in nurses.
Dr Steve McCabe
Portree, Isle of Skye

•  No doubt a seven-day service will eventually happen but not until financial demands by senior doctors have been met. If hourly paid staff on minimum wage and zero-hours contracts applied such pressure to an employer, they would be castigated. Consultants are well paid and not undeserving of high reward. I would take nothing from them, but I ask for them to give, making their skills available, on rota of course, at all times.
Roy Woolmans

•  If hospital consultants are to be challenged over their right to refuse weekend working, perhaps they could also be challenged over the artificial maintenance of long NHS waiting lists in order to create a steady stream of patients to their private practices.
Chris Coghill

Joan Fontaine was my godmother. For my father, Richard Hough, the publisher and naval historian, she was part of a magical period in his life. He joined the RAF in 1941 and was sent to learn to fly in California – a stone’s throw from Hollywood.

He was 19, handsome, unworldly and possibly about to die for his country. Immediately, and for six heady months, he was welcomed into the inner circle of film stars revolving around Joan and her sister, Olivia de Havilland.

Joan was infinitely kind, generous and loving, having him to stay for weekends, taking him to hugely glamorous parties and nightclubs, and giving him a grand 20th birthday party, with dinner and dancing. He wrote back to his fiancee, my mother: “Dancing with Joan among the palms in the very dimmed light … But don’t worry, I was pretending it was you.”

Joan’s kindness extended beyond the war years. They kept in touch, and she became my godmother. My only memory of her is when she visited us in 1951, in our very modest little cottage near Watford. She had already given me a magnificent rocking horse, and now I watched through the window as she arrived in an enormous limousine. My father was beside her, carrying a huge and wonderful doll’s house.

I remember no more, except for the aftermath. When she left, there was a strange and highly emotional exchange between my parents, and I never saw the doll’s house, or Joan Fontaine, again.


I really take issue with the perception that many people have that the job of an MP, as Steve Garrett (letter, 12 December) puts it, “is essentially an unskilled job requiring no qualifications”.

Having just participated in an uplifting parliamentary-candidate selection process in Ealing Central and Acton, in which a packed meeting of hundreds of local Labour Party members selected from five enthusiastic and talented candidates, who would all in their different ways have made excellent MPs, I know what a supreme effort people have to go to in order to secure a party selection, let alone the popular local vote.

Do your correspondents really think that the multiple real-life experiences and achievements prospective MPs must demonstrate in order to get on to a constituency shortlist, the time commitments they must devote to campaigning, talking to party members, local groups and constituents, and the necessary skills including effective public speaking, extensive networking and mastery of the local political brief, amount to lack of skills and qualifications? Perhaps they should try to stand for office themselves and find out first-hand how “easy” it is.

I don’t presume to comment on the right level of pay for MPs in a time of austerity, but to denigrate the institution of representative democracy in this way is dangerous, and your correspondents should stop doing it.

Rosy Leigh, London W3

If deliberations on MPs’ pay are to mean anything, let us – the taxpaying public as the ultimate paymasters of our MPs – see data relating to the earnings of MPs both before they were elected and after they leave office, along with data relating to their income from “moonlighting” while in office.

Professor David Sapsford, Liverpool

The Prime Minister claims that he is eager to cut the cost of politics by reducing the number of constituencies. It would be far better if, with the other leaders, he would show the way by reducing the size of the House of Lords, or at least refrain from adding to the cost to the public purse by packing that Chamber with even more peers.

The electorate uses its influence to vote in worthy MPs, but has no say at all as to the membership of the bloated Upper House, the raison d’être of some of whom appears to be the claiming of allowances and little else.

David Hindmarsh, Cambridge

Its all very well for David Cameron to lecture MPs about the proposed pay increase being totally unacceptable. He is a rich man married to an heiress.

How exactly are MPs to run two homes, one in their constituency and one in London, on the salary we pay them? David Cameron has a London home already and he is now given two official residences.

MPs and their pay are an easy target, especially after the expenses scandal. We pay MPs about half the salary other European countries pay.

It is time we moved Parliament out of London altogether. If we want to pay MPs regional pay rates, Parliament will have to meet in the regions. (The civil service should be moved out of London too.) Otherwise we will have to give MPs central London apartments to live in while they are MPs.

Nigel F Boddy, Darlington

If I am undecided how to vote at the 2015 election, the deciding factor will be which candidate has the courage to say that he or she will accept the entire IPSA package, especially given the fact that the overall impact on the public purse will be neutral.

The way politicians are falling over themselves to declare that they will refuse to accept a package which the public mistakenly believes gives them some kind of unfair advantage is quite nauseating.

Alan Pavelin, Chislehurst, Kent

Mandela’s true politics ignored

The sight of David Cameron, Barack Obama and other western leaders fawning over the memory of Nelson Mandela is nauseating. The political elite present Mandela as “one of us”, as if he shared “our”‘ values, and we his.

While Mandela was always an implacable opponent of neoliberal capitalism, the US and the UK have been in the forefront of promoting this execrable creed as the one true path towards progress, regardless of its capacity to produce division, misery, instability and inequality on a grand and global scale. At a local level witness the extraordinary proliferation of pay-day loan sharks and betting shops, so symptomatic of austerity Britain in a financial crisis.

Mandela may have been an idealist, but he was certainly no capitalist.

Simon Sweeney, York Management School, University of York

As Nelson Mandela has finally been buried and all those dignitaries who were delighted to be filmed – and filmed themselves at the memorial service, too – return home, let us spare a thought for that other great African leader, FW de Klerk, who had the courage to release Mandela in 1990 and hand over the presidency to him 1994. I wonder what the obituaries, tributes, and funeral service for South Africa’s last white president will be when that time finally comes?

Dominic Shelmerdine, London W8

In South Africa, when Nelson Mandela died, there was singing and dancing in the streets. In the north of England, when Margaret Thatcher died, there was singing and dancing in the streets. Truly, culture is a funny thing.

Michael Baum, Ilford, Essex.

Keep Genetics out of Education

Regarding your “nature trumps nurture” story (12 December), one should always be suspicious of supposedly objective studies that just happen to uphold the prevailing governmental ideology and policy.

At a time of gross inequality and absolute poverty, reinforced by a ferocious propaganda war against the poor, it’s hardly surprising that eugenics should be raising its ugly head. The attempt to disclaim this study’s moral implications by saying it points to an “individually tailored approach” which will help the “lower end of the distribution”, is simply a relatively polite way of calling for a two (or more)-tier education system to support a two (or more)-tier society. Separate but equal? Not likely.

Katherine Perlo, Prestonpans

Regarding the debate about the genetic role in the ability of a child to be academically bright, allow me to share the Indian approach to this which was developed thousands of years ago.

According to the ancient Hindu scriptures there are four psychological categories of human beings. The first is the intellectual type who will excel academically; the second is the warrior type for whom leadership and courage will come naturally; the third type is one who exceeds in trade, business and agriculture; the last type is the artisan type for whom any occupation requiring making things, comes naturally – anything from carpentry to fixing cars they excel in.

A class of students will have all four types. For some of these students understanding Shakespeare will be a doddle, but for some it will be impossible. The education system should be designed to work out which student is more inclined to a particular discipline. No one is a failure. It is very wrong to measure success simply by the numbers who go to university. Our country desperately needs builders, carpenters etc. and we need to raise the profile of vocational courses.

Nitin Mehta, Croydon, Surrey

Richard Garner’s perceptive comment on genetics in education mentions the “spectre of concentrating on the education of blue-eyed, Arian boys”.

As far as I am aware the followers of the third-century priest and heretic Arius, deemed “Arians”, drew from a broad racial palate, not least in the case of Arius himself, who was probably of North African origin. The confusion with Aryans, or Aryanism, a popular racial conceit of the late 19th and 20th centuries, while frequent, is inimical to the memory of an ascetic theologian who presented a rational, tolerant and more human alternative to the increasing Hellenisation and mystification of the early church, and who was anathematised and probably poisoned in consequence of his beliefs.

Christopher Dawes, London W11

Spell Checker’s fishy result

The dangers of spell-checker are revealed yet again in Charlotte Raven’s review of The Pleasure’s All Mine (14 December) which mentioned: “our confused sexual morays.”

Confused, indeed! The subtitle A Guide to Perverse Sex suddenly seems disturbingly accurate. How perverse can you get? (Don’t answer that!)

David Gee, Newhaven, Sussex

Segregation by any other name

Why should segregation based on sex in universities be any less offensive than segregation based on colour? (Letters, 14 December.)

Eileen Noakes, Totnes, Devon

Tory views of grammar schools have long needed challenging; well done Michael Wilshaw (“Double blow to Tory hopes of a new dawn for grammars”, 16 December).

Of course, as David Davis says, many working-class students achieved success in such schools, and were given opportunities of advancement, but how many were denied one, and instead, given an inferior education in a secondary modern, because a test at the age of 11 had designated them as having no potential? In comprehensive schools, created in the knowledge that students’ intelligence and potential continue to develop after 11, all pupils get an “opportunity”.

Examination results were not as good as they should have been; in my two-form entry grammar school, half of the pupils were immediately written off and put into the B stream, where the teachers were even less enthusiastic, the subjects, naturally, “less academic”, and the results woeful. Wilshaw’s analysis, for once, can be supported by most teachers.

The recent laudation of grammar schools was to be expected because it is increasingly being realised that their return is the whole point, along with personal political ambition, of Gove’s examination reforms; schools with only 20 per cent of their pupils capable of examination success will be forced to adopt less rigorous curricula, whilst schools with 80 per cent will force out the minority so they can concentrate on topping spurious league tables.

Disappointingly, the penny has yet to drop in all political circles, hardly surprising, when so few of our opposition politicians are able to respond to such Tory propaganda, because of their own education in private schools.

Bernie Evans


Poor Sir Michael Wilshaw. How naive. Surely he knows that reactionary, Luddite, mostly Tory MPs, especially Gove, armed with divine intuition and no professional qualification or experience of education, know the “truth” of any educational issue better than scientific research or the overwhelming consensus of qualified, professional educators.

Their messianic mission is to set back the educational clock on the axiomatic principle of “what was good enough for me must be right for everyone else”.

Keith Farman

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Perhaps social mobility has slowed because most of the talent has already moved up.

Robert Davies

London SE3

Voice of sanity amid the ‘war on drugs’

Your Thursday edition included a piece by Owen Jones commending Uruguay’s sensible decision to bring cannabis production, distribution and sale under the control of the state, thereby pulling the carpet from under the murderous crooks who – a futile global “war on drugs” notwithstanding – have grown fat and powerful off the trade for half a century.

Ironically, in the World section of the same edition, a brief paragraph quotes the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board as warning that Uruguay’s decision would “endanger young people” and “contribute to earlier addiction”.  The INCB’s claim might carry a bit more weight were it to explain how this might happen, when the sale of this product is being transferred from street-corner dealers to licensed outlets.

It’s high time that we ignored the many and powerful interests vested in the “war on drugs” (including the UN’s INCB?) and focused instead on managing drugs through state-controlled sale.

Can we see some intelligent debate on this please, at both the national and international level?  Because the “war on drugs” was lost decades ago, yet the solution is staring us in the face: legalisation.

Richard Trotman

Penistone, South Yorkshire

Uruguay is the first country brave enough to point out that the emperor wears no clothes. The days when governments can get away with confusing the drug war’s tremendous collateral damage with a comparatively harmless plant are coming to an end. If the goal of cannabis prohibition is to subsidise violent drug cartels, prohibition is a grand success. If the goal is to deter use, cannabis prohibition is a catastrophic failure.

Consider the experience of the former land of the free and current record holder in citizens incarcerated. The United States has double the rate of cannabis use of the Netherlands, where cannabis is legal. The global criminalisation of people who prefer marijuana to martinis has no basis in science. The war on cannabis consumers is a failed cultural inquisition, not an evidence-based public health campaign. Not just in Uruguay but throughout the world, it’s time to stop the arrests and instead tax legal cannabis.

Robert Sharpe

Policy Analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Washington DC

Owen Jones argues for a Uruguayan-type change of policy to legalise cannabis use, possession and supply. I may be about to change my long-held grumpy views, in part thanks to the succinct summary of Prohibition in Bill Bryson’s book One Sumer: America, 1927.

What unlearned lessons: the rise in official and unofficial violence; the public hypocrisy; the inability to enforce effectively; the unintended consequences of increasing the thing being controlled; the opportunities for fortunes to be made illegitimately and poverty to be increased legitimately. It’s time to rethink – thanks, Owen and Bill.

Dan Mace


Snarls and snubs of the rich and famous

Last week we observed photographs of Michelle Obama being supposedly “unamused” at her husband participating in a selfie photo with Cameron and Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Another photo shows Miliband supposedly resenting Clegg being acknowledged by Clinton. Only the most gullible of readers will have believed that a split-second photo capturing a facial expression is an indication of true feelings in either case.

A similar distortion was displayed in ludicrous headlines suggesting that Andy Murray was to “snub” the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards evening in London. Murray is focused on his annual Christmas training regime in Florida, in preparation for his attempt to win the Australian Tennis Championship. He is at the peak of his career and will no doubt have offered his apologies to the BBC. To suggest that his dedication should be interpreted as a snub is an example of the media distorting the facts in order to get a sensational headline.

Euan Holt

Quorn, Leicestershire

The tree that  purifies water

More than 25 years ago the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) published an article in their Unasylva magazine (no. 152: 23-28) about the tree that purifies water. The tree in question is the same Moringa oleifera referred to in your science piece on 9 December.

I came across the article when researching a book about God’s Trees: Trees, forests and wood in the Bible, which was published in October. The seeds of a related species, Moringa peregrina, which occurs in the Sinai, have the same water-cleansing properties and may help explain the perplexing incident of Moses purifying the bitter waters of Marah by throwing in a piece of wood or tree as recorded in Exodus 15:22-25.

Professor Julian Evans

President, Institute of Chartered Foresters

Ellisfield, Hampshire

Barbarity of gender segregation

It is a rare pleasure to find myself agreeing with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, David Cameron and Michael Gove – that segregating audiences by sex at university events if the speaker asks for this is totally unacceptable. Would the CEO of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge, support a speaker who asks for blacks and whites to sit separately? Gay people and straight people? People of different religions? Believers and atheists?

Universities are supposed to be places of enlightenment, not of medieval ignorance and barbarity.

Stanley Knill

London N15

Do go to Wikipedia and see that the University of al-Karaouine in Morocco, possibly the oldest university in the world, was started in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman. End of argument?

Henrietta Cubitt


The law according  to Terry-Thomas?

Being an “incorrigible rogue” has come off the statute books (report, 13 December). Has being a bounder, a stinker, a shower and a cad ever been on the statute books? The answer is probably not, as they are subject to light-touch regulation.

Angelo Micciche

St Erth, Cornwall


Clegg’s hirsute christmas

Nick Clegg’s Christmas card shows him wearing a false Santa Claus beard. It appears that at year end he is intent on underlining just how far he is from the traditional Liberal with a genuine beard.

Keith Flett

London N17


Sir, Matthew Parris is almost entirely right about the advantages of a public school education (“Kick open the doors to private education”, Dec 14): yes, only 7 per cent of British children are privately educated; yes, two thirds go on to top universities; and yes, the education we offer fosters self-confidence and poise.

However, he underestimates independent schools if he thinks we would find reasons to oppose state funding of up to 25 per cent of our places, to benefit poorer families. Far from wanting to protect privilege in an ivory tower, my own school already distributes £1.3 million per annum (over 10 per cent of our turnover) in means-tested bursaries, and many do the same.

We would see such a move by the government as a welcome state-funded extension of our bursary programme, giving even wider access to the opportunities we offer. So, rather than giving “an almighty howl”, this headmaster shouts “bring it on!”.

Andrew Johnson

Stonyhurst College, Lancs

Sir, Matthew Parris implies that the most academically gifted children should have free places at those schools where the teaching is best. Surely free places at these schools should be given to those in most need, ie, the least academically gifted. Otherwise the status quo remains: to those who have shall more be given.

Nicholas Pritchard


Sir, I did teaching practice in a direct grant (DG) school in 1971, and my final post was as head of a school which offered assisted places (AP) in 1994-97. Matthew Parris is right about the remarkable opportunities which both schemes offered, but puzzlingly wrong in assuming that the sector would unite against a new state scholarship scheme. It would be music to the ears of many of us.

However, Mr Parris fails to address two big practical questions. First: how can he guarantee that a future government will not summarily withdraw these scholarships, as happened with the DG in 1976 and again with APs in 1997? Secondly, how will he ensure that means-testing precludes the creative accounting by some applicants for which the AP scheme was rightly criticised?

Dr Nigel Richardson

Harston, Cambs

Sir, The Assisted Places Scheme worked on academic selection. The schools whose doors Mathew Parris now would like to kick in rigorously select all pupils upon academic ability (as every aspiring parent knows). Any state-funded pupils should therefore be selected only upon academic merit. To choose by ballot would indeed mean that many of these children would never fit in and would sadly struggle in the extremely competitive classes of the top independent schools.

Any social differences would be the least of these childrens’ problems.

Jane Shalders

Richmond, Surrey

Sir, Matthew Parris’s fundamental premise — that forcing private schools to accept 25 per cent of their intake as scholarship boys and girls will result in a more meritocratic society — is wrong. All this would do is create a slightly larger “elite”. That these institutions still enjoy charitable status in 21st-century Britain beggars belief.

Bethan Waite

Burton on Trent, Staffs

Unsporting behaviour is not something that has reared its ugly head at the Oxford and Cambridge rugby game — until now

Sir, As usual John Woodcock hits the wicket in his comments on the conduct of players in the Ashes and its likely effect on behaviour at school and clubs next year (Dec 13). It is too late, however. For the first time in its history at the Oxford and Cambridge rugby game (report, Dec 13) we saw a player sent off for unsporting conduct. At several schoolboy games of rugby this year I have seen players sidelined for abusive behaviour.

Coaches, parents and supporters should disavow unsporting, abusive and delinquent behaviour.

Hugh Cooper

London SW4

‘Only half of the drugs-related deaths in England and Wales that were registered in 2012 will have actually occurred in 2012’

Sir, The Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs is considering toughening policy on “legal highs” on the basis of figures which apparently show deaths linked to novel substances rising from 29 in 2011 to 52 last year.

However, in reality the figures show no such thing and discussion of this issue by broadcasters revealed the danger of the Office for National Statistics’ knowing adherence to a reporting format that bewitches and beguiles.

Even leading medical journals are routinely foxed into reporting drugs-related deaths registered in 2012 as if they had occurred in 2012. This is wrong: only half of the drugs-related deaths in England and Wales that were registered in 2012 will have actually occurred in 2012. This tardiness risks distortion of the evidence which the Government is using to make policy on premature deaths.

Those who advise ministers should, of course, ensure that they base
policy considerations on trends in drugs-related deaths by death-year, not by the irrelevance of registration-year. I congratulate The Times for championing the Royal Statistical Society’s call for overdue legislation to end the late registration of deaths in England and Wales and urge ministers to act.

Professor Sheila M. Bird

MRC Biostatistics Unit


The nomination for most over-priced product or service goes to the Charity Commission, in this reader’s opinion

Sir, The energy companies may charge a lot, but the prize for the most over-priced product or service must surely go to the Charity Commission.

I am a trustee of a tiny charity where every penny has to be counted and administrative costs are routinely absorbed by the trustees themselves. We have been advised by the Charity Commission of the recent publication of its new Public Benefit Guidance. Unless we comply with this guidance we stand to lose our charitable status. The new Guidance is, so it says, complex — but it will be sufficient if we follow the document which it calls a “10-minute briefing”, which can hardly run to more than ten pages.

This briefing cannot be read on screen. It has to be ordered, at a cost of £58.80. Charity may or may not begin at home; it certainly does not start with the Charity Commission.

Roger Sainsbury

London N10

‘Unless the industry is willing to adequately compensate the sufferers from the effects of airport expansion, no satisfactory solution will ever be found’

Sir, The problem of providing extra airport capacity has not changed since I was a member of the research team of the Roskill Commission almost 50 years ago.

Any proposed solution is, in essence, straightforward, needing to weigh up the benefits to the economy and the flyer against the dis-benefits to those upon whom noise pollution is inflicted. Unless the industry is willing to adequately compensate the sufferers from the effects of airport expansion, no satisfactory solution will ever be found. Different proposals only alter the balance between those benefiting versus those who suffer and hence alter the amounts that the industry will need to pay in compensation and its willingness and ability to pay it. The trick is to broker an acceptable deal for both parties.

All the studies in the world will not alter the problem, but delay means that the costs to the industry, the economy and the amount of compensation required will all increase.

Stan Abrahams

Ditchling, E Sussex


SIR – Once again Santa and his real, live reindeer are appearing in stores and shopping malls up and down the country.

Reindeer are shy, sensitive animals that grow stressed when confronted with excited children and loud music. They should not be transported from one venue to the next for our entertainment.

Peter Stockwell
Wilburton, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Since early November, from all quarters we have been bombarded with the full variety of goodies for the Christmas table. Enough. I look forward to a Christmas lunch of sausage and mash. With a beer.

Rodney Newman
Little Downham, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Like Joan Parrott, I have been in search of cards representing the spirit of Christmas. I have yet to find one depicting a cash register.

Pete Matthews
Colden Common, Hampshire

SIR – Last week we learnt that Lloyds is to be fined £28 million for aggressively selling financial products that were absolutely not in their clients’ interests (report, Business, December 12). As with fines for the likes of Network Rail, this money will, in effect, be paid by the taxpayer.

Until we start hitting the directors of companies with stiff personal financial penalties, instead of letting them off unhindered by the consequences of their poor governance, we will not see a change in the behaviour of these organisations.

Michael R Gordon
Bewdley, Worcestershire

SIR – Last year Lloyds lost a high-value foreign cheque I deposited in my account. Even as she was trying to locate the cheque, the bank cashier tried to sell me a Lloyds product. The cheque was later discovered in a drawer at the branch where it had been placed five weeks earlier. I closed my account.

Cristina O’Halloran
Orpington, Kent

Discipline or selection

SIR – Adam Pettitt, Head Master of Highgate School, writes: “We don’t hear much about poor discipline in Asia” . He attributes this to a consistency of approach to discipline between parent, school and society. However, I believe that these high standards of behaviour are more likely due to the very selective nature of schools in South Asia, which results in that area having the greatest number of children in the world who do not attend school at all. Unesco puts this figure at 42 million.

Any form of selection, including, in the case of Mr Pettitt’s current school, the charging of substantial fees and the setting of an entry test to assess pupils’ potential, will preclude the attendance of a genuine cross-section of pupils. Such schools are able to deny entry to those pupils who may be challenging or disruptive, thus avoiding having to face the issues they might bring.

Comprehensive schools in Britain do not have the luxury of this filtering process, nor should they.

Jennifer Shearer

Reclassifying ketamine

SIR – As a veterinary surgeon, specialist veterinary anaesthetist, and a former member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, I strongly support the reclassification of ketamine (Upgrading ketamine will harm animals”). While I have no desire to disagree with Professor David Nutt, I do not consider that this will affect the practice of veterinary surgeons or, what is more important, compromise animal welfare, and my colleagues and I already keep it in locked cabinets.

Ronald S Jones
Oxton, Cheshire

Left luggage

SIR – Back in the Sixties and Seventies, there was at Harrods aman crèche”, called Harrods Bank, on the second floor: rows of comfy green leather armchairs afforded contented repose. You could also leave the dog in the carpeted kennels and sally forth without a care.

Phyllida Flint
Orford, Suffolk

SIR – Our local Sears has a huge tool department, over which a sign proclaims: “Tool Department, Day Care for Men”.

Dr Richard Pugh
Clearwater, Florida, United States

Help for cancer carers

SIR – There are nearly a million cancer carers in England – with some giving 50 hours or more of care every week – but half aren’t getting the support they need. Only 5 per cent have had a carers’ assessment, which enables them to receive practical, emotional and financial support.

As a result of the lack of support, nearly half of cancer carers suffer mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression, and one in eight suffers physical health issues. By 2020, half of the population will have had a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, which will mean a surge in the number of cancer carers.

We are calling for the Care Bill to be amended to ensure the NHS in England has a duty to identify and support cancer carers. If this does not happen, they will buckle under the strain of caring, which may affect the well-being of patients, put a burden on services and be costly to the NHS in the long-term.

Ciarán Devane
Chief Executive, Macmillan Cancer Support
Mark Flannagan
Chief Executive, Beating Bowel Cancer
Annwen Jones
Chief Executive, Target Ovarian Cancer
Deborah Alsina
Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK
Samia al Qadhi
Chief Executive, Breast Cancer Care
Paula Chadwick
Chief Executive, The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation
Jonathan Pearce
Chief Executive, Lymphoma Association
Robert Music
Chief Executive, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust
Alex Ford
Chief Executive, Pancreatic Cancer UK
Henny Braund
Chief Executive, Anthony Nolan
Dr Vinod K Joshi
Founder, Mouth Cancer Foundation
Owen Sharp
Chief Executive, Prostate Cancer UK
Chris Askew
Chief Executive, Breakthrough Breast Cancer

Mozart goes electric

SIR – We are too quick to dismiss anything linking technology to more traditional skills such as learning music (Can an app teach children the basics of classical music?”).

While I agree that apps will never replace the benefit that derives from learning to play an actual instrument, anything that gets children thinking about music or encourages them to learn more has to be a good thing.

Such apps also offer an alternative route for children who have an interest in music but do not have access to classes or funds to buy a musical instrument.

Caroline Crabbe
Chesham, Buckinghamshire

Baa to tail-eating

SIR – I am waiting for Waitrose to bring back scrag-end of lamb. When I was a child, my mother made delicious stews with it. It was a cheap way of feeding a family, and should be appreciated in these straitened times.

I was told by a farmer that now it all goes straight to the pet food trade.

Les Sharp
Hersham, Surrey

Moving the aviation hub east will aid the economy

SIR – Having spent many years of my working life on the Thames and its estuary as a tug skipper, I am in full agreement with your correspondent Bridget Rosewell, when she considers that a new airport should be built as an island project and not at the Isle of Grain, which is totally unsuitable.

The ideal site is to the north-east of the Isle of Sheppey, where interference with wildlife and people would be minimal.

Closure of Heathrow, which is falling apart at the seams, would open space for a new city and create the homes and work that London is crying out for, contrary to the loss of employment that is forecast by those with a vested interest in the present airport.

At the same time, the building of an island airport would galvanise trade and employment to the east of London in areas that are high in unemployment.

British companies have the expertise for the task, as they demonstrated in Hong Kong, which now has one of the most advanced airports in the world.

Tinkering about with Heathrow will only provide a short-term solution to London’s problem. Better that the nettle be grasped now before more money is wasted on this archaic relic of the past.

Terry Justice
Chadwell Heath, Essex

SIR – If an airport is to function efficiently, it needs to be accessible, not only from the air, but also from the land. Nestling as it does between London, the Thames and the North Sea, the Thames estuary is one of the most inaccessible places in England, a completely unsuitable location for a major international airport.

Don Hadfield

SIR – It is difficult not to feel sympathy for Claire Blackman, the wife of the Royal Marine jailed for killing a wounded Taliban fighter.

The state places her husband in a brutal theatre of war, and then exacts the law’s ultimate punishment when his conduct falls short under extreme duress. His treatment is unjust, his conviction for murder unsafe, and his sentence excessive.

Trial by a military board, inevitably conscious of policy considerations in the glare of publicity, denied this man the human right accorded to any killer, namely to be judged by the common sense of a random public jury.

Now, instead of suffering only a dishonourable discharge – perhaps a fair and balanced outcome – he languishes for at least 10 years under special protection measures in a civil prison, the scapegoat for a society that fails to place the true culprit of war in the dock.

John Lawrance
Enfield, Middlesex

SIR – In the news are stories of patients dying because of short-staffing in hospitals at the weekends. When a doctor kills a patient by mistake, or when he or she is overworked, or possibly in some degree negligent, that doctor will often be forgiven, not struck off. Their fault will be seen in the context of the job they do in dealing with life-or-death situations. They will not often be labelled as murderers.

Few of us can imagine the pressures of being a soldier in an active theatre of war. What Marine A did was wrong and needs to be punished, but if we routinely forgive in the ward, should we not forgive in war?

Caroline Martin
New Radnor

SIR – President Barack Obama and his then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, sanctioned and watched the killing of Osama bin Laden – who was living in a non-active war zone – and this action was hailed as heroic. Yet Sgt Blackman – operating in a war zone – shot and killed an insurgent, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Theresa Welby
Coleshill, Warwickshire

SIR – One of our brave soldiers fighting in Afghanistan is jailed for a minimum of

10 years. But a father who killed his 16-week-old baby after becoming “agitated” when he ran out of cannabis (report, December 14), is given a six-year sentence.

Anne Hughes
Limpsfield, Surrey

SIR – When I was a platoon commander in the Korean War, I witnessed the Chinese capture a wounded lance corporal of mine. They shot him through the heart; it was cold murder. There is no place in a civilised society to deny ancient honour among good soldiers and accept the murder of defenceless people. We should fiercely uphold the Geneva Convention.

John Bowler
Clanfield, Oxfordshire

Almost a million people caring for loved-ones suffering from cancer in England should be given new legal rights to specialist support, an alliance of charities says today.

The chief executives of 13 charities working with families living with cancer are calling for an amendment to be written into the Government’s Care Bill, which is being debated by MPs, to create a new legal duty on the NHS to ensure that carers get the help they need.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, the charity chiefs warn that many are in danger of “buckling under the pressure” unless changes are made.

There are estimated to be almost a million cancer carers in England alone, many of them providing as much as 50 hours a week unpaid care ranging from administering medicine, to domestic work and emotional support.

Although specialist support, such as training, respite care or financial help, is already available, many do not apply because they are unaware of its existence – sometimes because they do not actively identify themselves as carers.

Only one in 20 of them have had a formal assessment with their local council which would enable them to gain access to extra support.

The amendment would require the NHS to identify carers when treating patients and ensure they are referred to the relevant person.

“If this does not happen, they will buckle under the strain of caring which may affect the well-being of patients, put a burden on services and be costly to the NHS in the long-term,” the signatories, led by Ciarán Devane, of Macmillan Cancer Support, warn.

Norman Lamb, the care minister, said that the bill would ensure better support for carers by forcing councils and the NHS to work more closely together.

“Carers make a huge contribution to society and we want to do all we can to support them,” he said.

“We agree that there needs to be better joint working and proposals already in the Care Bill will mean that local authorities will have to cooperate and work closely with the NHS to identify and support carers.”

Meanwhile a row is looming between doctors and the Government amid accusations that ministers have attempted to rush through legislation which could allow changes to hospitals without full consideration of patients’ needs.

The British Medical Association is concerned about amendments to the Care Bill in the Lords which would give greater powers to bodies known as Trust Special Administrators (TSAs).

It comes after the Government lost a legal battle over the future of Lewisham Hospital in south-east London. The High Court halted an attempt to cut A&E and maternity services at the hospital ruling that the special administrator brought in to deal with problems at a neighbouring trust did not have the power to suggest changes at Lewisham.

Irish Times:

Sir, – As I listened on Sunday night to Taoiseach Enda Kenny tell me, “It is now clear that your sacrifices are making a real difference”, I could not help but think that for many of the architects of our destruction times have never been better.

A host of ex-ministers and senior civil servants have walked away with pension entitlements the like of which put recent coverage of top-up payments in perspective. As an example, let us take a former minister who “retired” at 58 with a pension of €130,000 per annum, notwithstanding that this former minister is a qualified accountant and eminently employable. This person, subsequent to “retirement”, has been appointed to multiple boards of private companies.

I am 36. If I were to retire at 58 on that pension I would have to contribute €11,000 a month. Of course, I could not retire at 58 in any case. I am a pharmacist who has seen my business undermined time and again by multiple cuts under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act (FEMPI). The provisions of this Act gives extraordinary powers to the Minister for Finance.

Why was FEMPI not used to cut these pensions or prevent the payment of them until these elite persons were 65?

At a time when young teachers are threatened by our Government with further cuts to their already meagre pay for trying to defend their conditions the situation I have outlined above should be intolerable to the citizens of our republic. – Yours, etc,


Costello’s Pharmacy,

Marino Mart,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – It is very interesting to hear the Government parties almost congratulating themselves on the wonderful work they did to get us out of the bailout. They seem to forget that they have only been puppets for the troika since they took office. Now we will see if they are any use and keep us from another bailout. – Yours, etc,


Glenageary Woods,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Enda Kenny has told the people that exiting the bailout sends a powerful signal internationally; that now is not the time to change direction and that the future is to be about employment generating enterprise, not personal deal-making.

Apart from the fortitude and patience of the people, the most glaring signal to emerge from Ireland over the past decade is the impunity with which outrageous levels of white-collar crime and flagrant corruption can be perpetrated and the obscene amounts of wealth accumulated by services providers as a consequence of the economic collapse.

Not one individual has been tried and punished in a criminal court for the economic treason that has been inflicted on the country and public trust in so many so-called pillars of society has been gored beyond remediation.

Reform of the self-regulated legal services professions has been demanded for well over a decade. But the legal services bill still hunkers like an impotent ghost cowering in a haunted warehouse.

The Taoiseach needs to offer more than “prudent budgetary policies” if the credibility of his ambition is to be taken more seriously than that of a posturing cheerleader. He is governing a society, not merely an economy and he needs to urgently send society a signal to that effect. – Yours, etc,


Bellevue Avenue,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – The exit from the bailout is both significant and welcome. However, given the austerity we continue to face, rather than a presidential-style televised address, wouldn’t a press release (or brief interview) thanking the Irish people for their ongoing sacrifices be more in keeping with the times?

It is worth recalling that a few months ago, the country had a referendum on whether or not to abolish the Seanad. The idea to hold this referendum was entirely a personal initiative by the Taoiseach and even took members of his party by surprise when it was announced.

The referendum cost us taxpayers €12 million and it proposed to do away with one third of the Oireachtas and half of our parliament. And yet Enda Kenny did not have the political courage to go on RTÉ television and debate the issue in front of the people he serves.

Does he really believe that Sunday night’s cosy address (primarily designed to make him look good) will not be seen by the Irish people as anything more that what it really was – a political stunt? – Yours,etc,


Grosvenor Road,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – How sad and depressing to read a headline that says Ollie Rehn and Manuel Borroso were “told to stay away” from events to mark our exit from the programme of recovery which, with the involvement of the IMF, was facilitated by EU institutions (Front page, December 14th).

Instead of insulting the very people who saved our bacon, the Government’s impulse should have been to do the direct opposite. This was a good chance to remind the Irish public that, bad as things have been and still are, it is easy to demonstrate that they would have been a whole lot worse without the assistance of our friends in Europe.

If, instead of having to follow the precepts of responsible and prudent central Europeans, with copious loans from the same source to make sure that state wages and other expenses, including social welfare, could still be paid in the interim, we were left to the dictates of the markets as a bankrupt country, we would have been shown what true hardship entails.

The people of Ukraine can see the truth of the matter. A quote from one of the pro-EU protesters in Kiev in the same edition of your paper says “We know it’s not paradise in the EU. But it gives hope for a better life. That’s why we are here”. – Yours, etc,


Farrenboley Park,

Windy Arbour,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Might I perhaps offer a caption for Cyril Byrne’s candid shot of “Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan share a joke . . . to mark the bailout exit”. (“EU leaders told to stay away on exit day”, Front page, December 14th). “And then. . . hahaha . . . and then . .wait for it.. hahaha. . .then I told them . . . hohoho whatahoot . . .we’re all in it together.” But I’m sure your readers can beat that. – Yours, etc,


Castleview Estate,

Headford, Co Galway.

Sir, – With reference to the remarkably positive coverage of the bailout exit this week in the Irish media, I’m trying to remember one of the early signs of a totalitarian state. Isn’t it when the messages from the government and the media consistently support each other? – Yours, etc,


Charleston Road,

Ranelagh, Dublin 6.


Sir, – Your Editorial writer “Scrap the bonus” (December 11th) appears to have returned from a time warp in relation to a number of assertions made.

The performance bonus system which the writer says should be abolished or radically changed was abolished three years ago.Furthermore, the article implies that the performance bonus system was widely applicable. This is also false.

Our members never received performances bonuses. Nor did 97 per cent of civil servants. The bonus was available to a very small number of civil servants at assistant secretary grade.

The article states promotion in the civil service is based on Buggins’ Turn. This is also incorrect. The reality is that promotion in the civil service is based on merit with staff competing in a competency-based process overseen by the Public Appointments Commission.

The writer also suggests that underperformance in the private sector can reach as high as 30 per cent without reference to any source. Indeed, if 30 per cent of the private sector employees are underperforming, it must be a major headache for the IDA when trying to attract foreign investment.

This union has been actively engaged for the past number of years in changing work practices and modernisation while having had their pay cut three times since the austerity programme began. It has not been an easy journey. Misinformed prejudices, such as those articulated in the Editorial, undermines this entire process and the individuals who have been impacted. – Yours, etc,


General Secretary,

Association of Higher Civil

and Public Servants,

Fleming’s Place, Dublin 4.

A chara, – I would like to commiserate with the Irish media and numerous politicians as those inconsiderate so-and-sos in the ANC have scuppered their attempts to sideline Gerry Adams and downplay his relationship with the late Nelson Mandela. Bad luck, but you can still bury your heads back in the sand and continue to misrepresent history. – Is mise,


Clós Bhaile na nGabhar,

Baile na nGabhar,

Baile Átha Cliath 14.

Sir, – I am deeply gratified that the South Africans have acknowledged the longstanding links between the ANC and the IRA. However, I am puzzled by their choice of representative at the Nelson Mandela funeral. They seem to have invited a man who was never a member of the IRA. – Yours, etc,


Erris Square,

Blanchardstown, Dublin 15.

Sir, – Before Nelson Mandela took an active role in politics, he wrote, “Meetings would continue until some kind of consensus was reached. Democracy meant all were to be heard. Majority rule was a foreign notion.” The same was true throughout sub-Saharan Africa, as exemplified by the Swahili, Kinyarwanda and French African words: “baraza”, “gacaca” and “palabre”. Later, on retiring at the final sitting of South Africa’s first democratic parliament, he said, “out of any debate . . . there should be no winners or losers.”

Majority voting, then, was and still is inadequate.

As we now lay Madiba to rest, many are the calls to honour his legacy. To play our part, be it in the Dáil or in referendums, can we please stop using this divisive voting procedure, the most inaccurate measure of collective opinion ever invented?

A classic example was the recent ballot on the Seanad, with some voting No because they wanted to keep it as is, and others because they wanted reform. If the debate is multi-optional, then so too should be the ballot – as in New Zealand in 1992 – whereupon the outcome should be the option with the highest average preference, an African outcome . . . while the words “majority” and “minority” fade from the political lexicon. – Yours, etc,



The de Borda Institute,

Ballysillan Road, Belfast.

Sir, – It is ironic that at a time when our Minister for Tourism has just announced plans to promote the Wild Atlantic Way as one of Ireland’s major tourist attractions, Aidan Forde of the National Offshore Wind Association of Ireland lobby group should be promoting plans to construct hundreds of huge turbines all down our beautiful east coast to export wind energy to the UK (Opinion, December 12th).

We are not talking here about a few turbines no more visible on the horizon than “half a thumbnail” as Mr Forde puts it. Wind developers are proposing about 600 massive turbines up to 160 metres tall, constructed six-to-12km offshore which will inevitably dominate the coastlines of Louth, Dublin and Wicklow.

The developers’ environmental impact statements predict major adverse visual impact on of some of Ireland’s most beautiful coastal scenery including Howth Head, Killiney Bay, and Bray Head. Up to 400 turbines will fence in virtually the entire Wicklow coastline from Bray, Greystones, and Wicklow to north Wexford. Significantly in June this year, among the hundreds of objections to the proposed Dublin Array wind farm, 12km off Dublin and Wicklow, was one from Fáilte Ireland opposing this 145-turbine development on grounds of “negative impact on recreational and visual amenity” which would “adversely affect the tourism resource of the area”.

Would any other country in the world blessed with the priceless amenity of such a beautiful coastline so close to its capital city contemplate such massive industrial development on sandbanks rich with wildlife, so close to shore? The answer is a resounding No. It is widely recognised that the future of offshore wind lies in largescale developments far from shore. Offshore technology has now reached the stage where such construction is possible. Belgium, Netherlands and Germany have adopted 22km buffer zones around their coasts to protect wildlife and scenic amenity of sensitive coastal areas. In the United Kingdom, there is growing opposition to wind farms close to shore with huge controversy about wildlife and landscape impact of recent proposed developments such as the Atlantic Array, 16km off the coast of Devon.

Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte has stated that Ireland will meet its targets for renewable energy from wind farms on land without resorting to offshore wind which he described as more than twice as expensive. Developers are now lobbying for the huge offshore windfarms, permitted and proposed close to the East coast, to be considered as an export opportunity. Before this scenario is advanced an independent cost benefit analysis must be carried out. Should Ireland allow its uniquely beautiful east coast to be degraded to supply the energy needs of the United Kingdom? Should the coastlines of Dublin and Wicklow be sacrificed to preserve the coastlines of Devon and Cornwall? – Yours, etc,


Hunter’s Hotel,

Rathnew, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I refer to Ronan Clarke’s letter (December 14th) regarding the cost of travel on Dublin Bus and would point out that Dublin Bus pre-paid tickets offer excellent value for money. For example, a One-Day Family Rambler ticket costs €11.50 and offers unlimited travel for one day for two adults and four children on all of our services.

There are more than 400 Dublin Bus Ticket Agents across Dublin, and four of those are based in Cabra. – Yours, etc,



Media and Communications


Dublin Bus,

Upper O’Connell Street,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – To dress up what has happened to this generation of Irish people as the mere “hedonism” and “maturity” of “a tearaway teenager”, as Una Mullally has done (Opinion, December 16th), is a grevious understatement. The state of mind behind the self-indulgent, celebrity culture that has us dependent on foreigners to keep the holes-in-the-wall open over the past number of years has much deeper roots in our society than that.

The basic motivating force behind the bankrupting of this country was the self- obsession, self-absorption, self-indulgence and self-aggrandisement of the most powerful and most influential in our society.

The message blasting out of our TV screens and our social media day in day out was one that said the way to get ahead was self-exaltation, destruction of the self-esteem of everyone else in sight and exultation in the difficulties of “whingers” and “losers”.

To add insult to injury the mantra being put out now is that “We are all to blame”. – Yours, etc,


Shielmartin Drive,

Sutton, Dublin 13.


Sir, – Congratulations to the architects and planners of the €410 million Aviva stadium.

On inquiring if there was anywhere to park a bike at the grounds, I was informed there’s a bicycle rack available beside Elvery’s shop if I arrive early enough!

Ireland, don’t you just love it? – Yours, etc,


Charlotte Terrace,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.


Sir, – Why all the hullabaloo over eating pigeon (Home News, December 13th)? As John Donovan lives in a semi-rural area we can safely assume he refers to the wood pigeon and not the feral pigeon found in cities. One of the most delicious meals I’ve ever eaten was a rabbit and pigeon pie at the much-lamented Drimcong House restaurant near Moycullen, Co Galway. – Yours, etc,



Ballinasloe, Co Galway.

Sir, – On Sunday I heard the first lawnmower of December. Surely the cuckoo is now completely confused! – Yours, etc,


Marlborough Road,

Glenageary, Co Dublin.


Sir, – It is very sad that Peter O’Toole left for heaven without warning on the same day that Nelson Mandela was buried. Two great men who gave joy to millions in very different ways. Maybe the timing was preordained. There is surely no better man than Peter to organise a party up above for Madiba. – Yours, etc,


Fore Street,


London, England.

Irish Independent:

* There has been some inappropriate interpretation of the efforts of Pope Francis to bring the leadership of the church down to earth, in some cases seeing his efforts as an opportunity to reinforce traditional teaching.

Also in this section

Giving ideas to ‘her indoors’

Letters: Mandela saw the ties that bind us

Letters: Enda was right to look worried this time last year

Pope Francis’s thoughts run much deeper. His misgivings about how the church is led are not so much concerned with teaching but about mending weaknesses in the church’s capacity to learn.

It seems to me to make more sense to think of teaching not as a noun, referring to a body of doctrines, but as a verb pointing to a certain activity concerned with illuminating minds. The onus is on the teacher to bring about learning in a way that engages the intelligence of the learners.

Sadly, weak leadership in the Irish church has generated blind complacency in the face of a crying need for inspiring direction. It is sad, too, to see church leaders showing a lack of faith in the capacity of the priests and people to detect what is right and fitting for us as humans. Thankfully, the goodwill of the Irish knows no bounds, whilst revealing a sensitive nose for what is authentic and sincere.

The colonisation of human thoughtfulness and imagination by the sometimes restricted perspective of our bishops has constituted a significant disservice to the church.

The Pope is not interested in re-branding the church, but in releasing the intelligence of the clergy and people; the days of censoring and silencing are over.

What Pope Francis is attempting to do is reshape the way leadership operates in the church, to halt the further amplification of the church’s perceived irrelevance.

The Pope makes a challenging appeal to us not to be driven by the fear of going astray but by the avoidance of suffocation by institutional structures and procedures. His is a call to redirect and refocus our moral indignation on the plight of the poor and the marginalised; compassion should always trump conformity.




* We exited the bailout and the Government predictably did a limp lap of honour. No champagne corks popping, or fireworks, though, and thank God for that.

The heroes of the past three years are those who took the pain, and silently bit down hard on the bullet.

This often meant not turning on the central heating as the ice gathered on the window pane; sometimes it meant sleeping over several nights on trolleys in hospitals; for others it meant the loss of vital carer hours, the sole comfort elderly people might have over a long week in isolation.

And I also think of the mothers and fathers who accompanied their children to airports around the country to wave them off.

They had not reared them for other countries to benefit, but needs must. Now they keep contact through the use of Skype and email. But that’s not the same — you can’t hug someone on the hard shoulder of the “information super highway.”

If that all sounds a bit Dickensian, and ‘Bah! Humbug!’, then I am sorry, especially in the run-up to the season of Goodwill.

I don’t want to do Enda down; he and the Government have done well.

When they took over and saw the books for the first time, they might have been forgiven for pulling the blankets over their heads and taking to the bed themselves.

We have endured, and prevailed with the gentle spirit and courage that is the watermark of the Irish character, let’s be grateful for that.

But do not let us forget the silent sacrifices endured by so many whose daily struggles are never celebrated, and seldom even acknowledged.




* Now that the Oireachtas has managed to shed some light on the business practices of the Central Remedial Clinic, and the troika has departed these shores — to the accompaniment of a political fanfare only matched in our history by that which followed Saint Patrick‘s driving of the snakes out — might I submit that the Oireachtas now turn its attention to the issue of bringing the bankers before the Oireachtas to explain how they caused the troika to come here in the first place?




* Finance Minister Michael Noonan has been quoted as saying “We can’t go mad again” in relation to our economic crisis. One wonders which “we” he refers to?

Is it the “we” who brought this country to its knees through inept banking, and rampant property speculation or is it the “we” who were forced to buy family homes at hugely inflated prices, and are at present paying mortgages they can barely afford?

Or is it those who have been crippled by incessant tax hikes and freezing of increments and those that can barely heat and run their homes due to ever increasing fuel prices, social welfare cuts, household and property taxes? The assumption by much of the media and politicians appears to be that the Irish people as a whole caused this crisis and that we were living well beyond our means.

Now that we all have been good girls and boys and are ‘post bailout’, I can assure Mr Noonan that I did not go mad nor do I intend to go mad, but I certainly am ‘fuming’.




* Enda Kenny has told the people that exiting the bailout sends a powerful signal internationally; that now is not the time to change direction and that the future will be about employment generating enterprise, not personal deal-making.

Apart from the fortitude and patience of the people, the most glaring signal to emerge over the past decade is the impunity with which outrageous levels of white-collar crime and flagrant corruption can be perpetrated and the obscene amounts of wealth accumulated by services providers as a result of the collapse.

Not one individual has been tried and punished in a criminal court for this economic treason.

And public trust in so many ‘pillars of society’ has been gored beyond remediation.

Reform of the self-regulated legal service professions has been demanded for well over a decade. But the legal services bill still hunkers like an impotent ghost cowering in a haunted warehouse.

The Taoiseach needs to offer more than ‘prudent budgetary policies’ if his ambition is to be taken more seriously than a cheerleader.

He is governing a society, not just an economy, and he needs to urgently send society a signal to that effect.




* I respectfully wish to register the strongest complaint in relation to the advertisement shown on the back of yesterday’s newspaper by the RSA.

“Beware of cyclists” to my mind, as both a motorist and a keen cyclist, sends out a completely inaccurate message to the general public and most importantly “motorists” about the presence of cyclists on our roads.

It is negative in its wording and if I might suggest to the powers that be that a very simple change to that wording would go much further towards reducing accidents and, most importantly, fatalities on our roads.

Why not try the following, “Be aware of cyclists”? It sounds much more positive to all parties involved, don’t you think?





Irish Independent


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