Christmas Day

26 December 2013 Christmas Day

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. There is a inspection for Troutbridge, will she pass it after her refit?


Potter around start Doctor Who blog, get sonic screw-driver bafled by the DeCrapio Doctor Who, The Day of the Doctor

Scrabbletoday I winand gets under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.




The 4th Lord Ashcombe, who has died aged 89, was a descendant of the master builder Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855), who made the family fortune building much of London’s Bloomsbury, Pimlico and Belgravia, and he carried on the family’s business tradition as heir and then head of the Cubitt family.

Henry Edward Cubitt was born on March 31 1924, the eldest son of Roland Cubitt, who would become the 3rd Lord Ashcombe on the death of his father in 1947. The title had been created in 1892 for George Cubitt, son of the famous builder, a Conservative MP for West Surrey, then Mid-Surrey, and a Church Commissioner.

Henry Cubitt went into the RAF directly after Eton and served during the Second World War, mainly in pilot training in Canada. After the war he embarked on his career in the family businesses, serving, over time, on the boards of more than 30 companies, including some linked with large American and Canadian developers.

He was chairman of Holland, Hannen and Cubitt when it was a major shareholder in ACI Property Corporation, which built the $9 million Le Cartier Apartments in Montreal, in 1965 the tallest apartment block in the Commonwealth.

In 1970 his CR Developments sold, for £4.4 million, the Pimlico Estate covering 27 acres in Victoria, including 480 homes, to a consortium controlled by the Hanson Trust. During the 1960s he had served as consul-general in London for the Principality of Monaco.

It was difficult to distinguish Lord Ashcombe’s personal wealth from that of his family’s firms and, possibly as a result, he did not feature in newspaper “rich lists”. In 1958 he transferred to the National Trust his 800-acre Denbies estate near Dorking (which now boasts the largest vineyard in England) to meet duties on the estate of his grandfather, the 2nd Lord Ashcombe. From 1985 he had no estate of his own after selling his Surrey home to move into Sudeley Castle, the 1,000-year-old house in Gloucestershire where Henry VIII’s widow Katherine Parr died, the home of his American third wife, Elizabeth.

Lord Ashcombe was no politician. He listed himself as a Conservative, but did not take the party whip in the Lords. After succeeding to the title on the death of his father in 1962, it was 11 years before he took the Oath. He made his maiden speech a year later, in May 1974, on the theme that Britain could no longer stand alone and its companies — like his own — had to build links with firms in other advanced countries. After that, until the abolition of the hereditary peers, he attended the Lords once or twice a year, neither voting nor speaking.

Despite his wealth and the attention it attracted, for the most part Lord Ashcombe managed to keep out of the diary columns. This was perhaps surprising given that his niece was Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall. Although he never courted publicity, however, Ashcombe did not go to great lengths to avoid it — as when he bought 50 tombola tickets for £50 each at a charity evening at Annabel’s nightclub in aid of the widows and dependants of members of the SAS.

Possibly because he was at the time only an heir to a peerage, moderate attention was paid to his first marriage, in 1955, to the American-born Ghislaine Dresselhuys who, as Ghislaine Alexander, had made her name in the early 1950s as the “gentle-voiced beauty” — one of the first women television panelists on the BBC television game show What’s My Line?

The marriage was dissolved in 1968 and in 1973 he married, secondly, Virginia Carington , the younger daughter of Lord Carrington. That marriage, too, was dissolved, and in 1979 he married his third wife, Kentucky-born Elizabeth Dent-Brocklehurst, the chatelaine of Sudeley Castle. She was the widow of his friend Mark Dent-Brocklehurst, who had died of a heart attack in 1972 aged 40, leaving Elizabeth to raise two small children, Henry and Mollie, and to pay hefty death duties and work out how to turn Sudeley into a tourist attraction.

In semi-retirement as chairman of Sudeley Estates, Ashcombe helped his wife to restore and renovate the castle and grounds, and converted cottages on the estate. He also devoted much time and effort to quietly effective charitable work. Having survived his own battle with alcohol, he channelled his energies into charities involved in the rehabilitation of ex-offenders with alcohol problems, notably the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt) and The Bridges, RAPt’s residential drug and alcohol treatment centre in Hull, helping to raise

A popular, self-effacing man, and a kind and loyal friend, Lord Ashcombe took a share in the Helmsley sporting estate in Yorkshire, where he was a generous host. He also bought a Yorkshire grouse moor on behalf of his friend, the Saudi racehorse owner Prince Khalid Abdullah, and continued to look after the Prince’s interests in the county.

Lord Ashcombe is survived by his wife. He had no children by any of his marriages, and the title passes to his cousin, Mark Edward Cubitt, born in 1964.

The 4th Lord Ashcombe, born March 31 1924, died December 4 2013





Many people will welcome the granting of a retrospective royal pardon to Alan Turing, and there can be no doubt that those who have campaigned for one have been well-intentioned and moved by perfectly understandable feelings. But Andrew Hodges is absolutely right in his criticism (Report, 24 December). The fact is that Turing was properly convicted of what was at the time a criminal offence. There was no doubt about the soundness of the conviction, and there were no extenuating or mitigating circumstances. Lord McNally was accordingly quite right to decline the request for a pardon, harsh as his decision doubtless appeared to many.

Contrary to what some seem to think, the fact that Turing was a great mathematician who performed, during his time at Bletchley Park, an enormous service to his country which may well have saved hundreds of thousands of lives is completely irrelevant. What was wrong was not the conviction, but the law under which Turing was convicted. Singling him out for special treatment in a way that conveys the appalling message that, as Hodges put it, “a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else” is both morally offensive and damaging to our system of justice. If anyone who was convicted under that law is to be “pardoned”, everyone should be – at least then there would be some chance that some of those affected by convictions under the bad law which was then in place would derive some consolation. But better simply to acknowledge that it was a bad law, and to be ever wary of introducing legislation which panders to the “moral sense” of the majority.
Bob Hale

•  You state that a pardon is normally granted only when a person is innocent (in which case, of course, the term “pardon” is surely inappropriate). In fact the strict Home Office criterion has been that the recipient be both “morally and technically innocent”. It seems that Turing’s technical guilt in 1952, despite his “moral” innocence in 1952, prompted the then justice minister Lord McNally to refuse a recommendation in 2012.

However, that decision may have ignored the administrative practice that has existed since the early 1960s (and which Turing’s pardon now reflects) whereby the strict Home Office criterion for a non-statutory pardon can be sidestepped. The breakthrough was the award of pardons in 1964 in two separate cases to prisoners convicted of possessing offensive weapons that had been planted on them by “bent coppers”, including the notorious Detective Sergeant Harold Challenor. While the innocence of the prisoners could not apparently be conclusively established, Roy Jenkins had these cases in mind when he recommended a posthumous pardon for Timothy Evans in 1966. For despite Evans’ “technical” innocence (though still disputed by some), the latter’s “moral” innocence might have been considered compromised by his prior belief that Christie was going to carry out an illegal abortion on the subsequently strangled Beryl Evans.
Gerry Rubin
Bridge, Kent

•  Most of us appreciate the pardon of Alan Turing, but we cannot atone for his appalling treatment and eventual suicide by persisting in the “Colossus misconception”. Professor Jack Copeland and Paul Gannon, in their books on Colossus, draw attention to the misconception that Turing played some part in the design and build of the world’s first electronic computer. Turing was in America when Tiltman and Tutte broke the more complex Fish/Tunny code.

Thomas H Flowers, a Post Office engineer, already using valves, knew he was the only one with the expertise to build an electronic machine that would speed up the urgent deciphering process. His offer to build a machine was turned down. He went back to Dollis Hill and, with his own money, built Colossus. Installed in January 1944, it was an immediate success and allowed the Allies to read messages between Hitler and his high command. It was Colossus that shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives. It was Flowers who led the world into the electronic computer era we now live in. When asked what part Turing played in the Colossus computer, Flowers said “he had nothing to do with it”. Why the misconception persists and Flowers’ role is diminished is worthy of some consideration. He may himself have been the victim of a different form of discrimination. His degree in electrical engineering was gained at night school at London University. He was not an Oxbridge chap and was referred to at Bletchley Park as “the cockney”.
Jack Armitage
Silverdale, Lancashire

•  By definition, “granting a pardon” means forgiveness or exemption from punishment for an offence committed. Alan Turing’s “offence” was to be in a relationship with a man in the privacy of their own homes. He quite rightly felt no remorse or guilt for his lifestyle and it would be surely be more appropriate to declare void all laws outlawing homosexuality, including the 1885 Act under which he was convicted, thus meaning that he was never guilty of any crime and thus obviating the need of a pardon.
Colin Burke

• It is not Alan Turing who is in need of a pardon. It is the British government for having, in the recent words of Lord McNally, “properly convicted” him.
Michael Holroyd



On 29 June 2010 you reported that all the hundreds of diplomats in the US embassy in London refuse to pay the congestion charge, citing their immunities under the Vienna convention. Now (20 December) you report that the Indian deputy consul-general in New York, despite her diplomatic immunity, has been arrested, strip-searched and kept in a cell with drug addicts. With such a clear precedent, should the Metropolitan police now be asked to take a more robust approach to the congestion charge issue?
Mark O’Sullivan

•  Denis MacShane is prosecuted and sentenced to six month for expenses fraud amounting to £13,000 and the judges remarks that he was guilty of deliberate deceit and dishonesty (Report, 24 December). David Laws admitted to false claims of around £40,000 over a period of eight years but wasn’t prosecuted. Has there ever been an explanation for this?
Geoff Clegg

• You report that “laboratory tests showed polymer banknotes … would fare better in washing machines” (Plastic banknotes will come into use in 2016, 18 December). Does this mean that, while they will be harder to counterfeit, they will be easier to launder?
Barry Luckhurst
Havant, Hampshire

• That Anna Soubry can recognise the look of somebody who’s had a finger “put … up his bottom and he really rather likes it” (Tory minister apologises for remark about Ukip leader, 23 December) gives us a fascinating insight into her private life.
Bruce Holman
Waterlooville, Hampshire

• Chris Elliott states (Open door, 23 December) that “Guardian readers are … 84% more likely to say they do not have time to prepare and cook food”. Maybe we are all exhausted and satiated after reading the interminable food supplements and recipes. Enough! No more second helpings in the new year, please.
Roshan Pedder
West Molesey, Surrey

• Why were there pastry swastikas on the cover of last Saturday’s Christmas edition of your Cook supplement?
John Woolford


The embarrassing turnaround by Marks & Spencer (Report, 24 December), revoking their policy to allow Muslim personnel not to handle alcoholic or pork products, must be applauded. It’s a major triumph for common sense against emerging Wahhabi-Salafi extremism in the UK. During the past decade, numerous Saudi-funded institutions and clergy in Britain have led an insidious theological campaign to impose primitive tribal mores and cultural rigidity of the most backward land of Islam upon British Muslims. Sadly, many ill-informed followers of the faith have been programmed by Wahhabi-Salafi fanatics to believe that the touching of alcohol or pork is impermissible in Islam. They have also been duped by these ultra-conservative zealots about gender segregation, female head-covering (hijab), face-masking (niqab) and other non-scriptural “customs”.

However, there is nothing in the Holy Qur’an that sanctions this or their repressive and chauvinistic interpretation of Islam. Fundamentalist zealots flaunt the reputed and manufactured oral traditions of Muhammad (Hadith), compiled some 300 years after his death, as the sole basis for their warped perversion of the faith. But educated British Muslims must resist this risible movement seeking to recreate the mythical seventh-century Arab utopia that is now foisted upon Muslim society worldwide by Saudi finance and fanatics. Right-minded Muslims uphold a British Islam that is integral to original Qur’anic precepts, but is also compatible with British social norms. We are relieved that M&S has played a small part in rejecting pernicious Wahhabi distortions.
Dr T Hargey
Director and imam, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford


Since you have allowed Geoffrey Robertson QC, a friend of Nigella Lawson, substantial space to plead on her behalf (21 December), I trust you will commission a lawyer of equal status to put the case for the relatively poor Italian sisters who have also suffered vilification of their characters by the Lawson-Saatchi legal team. Saachi would have had the sisters in jail for Christmas had not the judge, quite rightly in my opinion, allowed Saatchi’s email to Lawson referring to her drug-taking to be placed in the public domain; it was highly relevant to the Grillos’ defence. Robertson, who is normally on the side of the oppressed, should be applauding this verdict for the weak against the strong, instead of sticking up for his rich friend who was simply embarrassed at being caught out as an illegal drug user – after all, no one forced the Lawson-Saatchis to bring this prosecution, and besides, judging by their weekly spending as revealed in court, they can well afford to take the hit.
Dr Colin Lovelace
Anglet, France

• Dominic Lawson has used his Sunday Times column to rail against the unfairness of his sister, Nigella, being compared to a “druggie on a council estate” (Report, 23 December). It was this snobbishness and belief that masters should always be supported against servants that led ministers to come out for “Team Nigella”. The comparison is indeed unfair – to those on a council estate.
Martin Mitchell

• This week, my colleagues on the management committee of Barnet Law Service have been drafting redundancy notices to advisers and support staff who for the past 12 years have, on their own account and by supervising volunteers, provided legal services to those of few or modest resources living or working in the London borough of Barnet, ensuring that the rights of thousands of individuals have been respected by employers, landlords and state institutions. The near abolition of legal aid, cuts in council spending and the reorientation of charities towards ever more extreme need mean the service can’t continue. David Cameron should be ashamed to whisper the words “big society” (Report, 24 December) when it is his government which is overseeing its destruction.
Helena Wray
Barnet, Middlesex

Just two years since independence – and nine years since the end of South Sudan‘s protracted conflict with what is now the Republic of Sudan – political discord and spreading internal violence are pushing the fledgling state to the edge of breakdown (Report, 24 December). Over the next few weeks, restraint and a commitment to peaceful dialogue will be critical to South Sudan’s future and its prospects of avoiding a slide to civil war. But when the guns do die down, South Sudan will have to turn to the difficult task of addressing the underlying issues that led to the present crisis. There are many questions that will need to be asked during the recovery process. How have the legacies of war been dealt with? How effective has the transformation and reform of the country’s security services been? Is the system of governance serving the needs of the new state?

For the sake of long-term peace and stability, South Sudan desperately needs to engage in a broad-based reconciliation process as an essential part of developing a new constitution. This would be an opportunity for wide public engagement to both deal with past political violence and grievances, and to cultivate greater public accountability, transparency and oversight of political processes and the management of its security services.
Paul Murphy
Executive director, Saferworld

• Wow, 90m Kalashnikovs produced – well worth commemorating in a full-page obituary of their inventor (24 December). At least this guy was famous for something. Looking forward to the obits of the countless millions mown down by the bloody things.
Root Cartwright
Radlett, Hertfordshire






Steve Richards’ concern over the mounting housing crisis (16 December) raises questions about our society’s objectives.

Does Britain really need a new railway between London and Birmingham and an extra London airport runway more than it needs to build more homes? The compulsory purchase of land is taken for granted for infrastructure projects. Perhaps the country should be extending the same acquisition processes to appropriate small areas of land for new social and affordable homes?

The economics of the current planning process are hugely biased in favour of the lucky landowner who receives such a hugely inflated price for land that his personal bonanza can add £50,000 to the cost of each modest, desperately needed home, before a single brick has been laid.

This burden on hard-pressed private buyers, housing associations and other providers of affordable new housing could be dramatically reduced by allowing local communities to identify the need for low-cost housing and its optimum location. All that is needed is for local authorities to have the right to use such land, just as though it were for another “public good” like a new road, HS2 or Heathrow and pay the owner equally fair compensation.

Unless something along these lines is done, the provision of homes for “hard-working families” will never escape the transfer of their earnings to the wealthy few who happen to own land.

Aidan Harrison

Rothbury, Northumberland


Ed Miliband’s attack on developers demonstrates the political posturing and housebuilder-baiting that has blighted the sector for decades, and is the primary reason why we have a such a chronic shortage of homes in this country.

It’s an area which has attracted all the wrong type of political interference at both local and national level, and consequently this has hindered supply, restricted innovation and squeezed profitability. It has done so to such an extent that the vast majority of the instances of land-hoarding Mr Miliband refers to, exist only because the development of these sites has been made economically unviable by the financial demands and bureaucratic burdens imposed by local councils.

The key to increasing housebuilding is improving supply by simplifying the planning process. The clue to our industry is in the word “housebuilding”, and of course this is what we want to do. But we can only grow and generate employment if we are allowed to build the houses our country so desperately needs

Bob Weston

Chairman and Chief Executive, Weston Homes plc, Takeley, Essex



On 17 December you reported that the Serpentine Gallery has been given 12 National Lottery awards totalling £6.8m. Recently, the Royal Academy was given £12.7m and Tate Britain £45m, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Today I also received news that the wonderful, but struggling, Gladstone Gallery in Stoke is so starved of funds that its very survival is now threatened.

Why has the glaring imbalance in funding, both from central government and bodies such as the Arts Council, been allowed to continue unchallenged? We are at risk of losing  precious and irreplaceable parts of our cultural heritage while London gobbles up a wholly disproportionate share of the money.

Who makes these choices and who can be held accountable, and most importantly will those holding the purse strings act now before it is too late?

Miriam Mazower

London NW11



I wholeheartedly concur with Imogen Thompson (Letters, 20 December). I have worked in primary schools where some children as young as four were left with child minders at 7.30am and collected after their parents finished work. This is no life for a child.

So many reception class children miss out on Mum or Dad being able to collect them from school. I would urge any parent to think very hard before putting their baby or young child in someone else’s care all day. Your child is precious and needs you.

Hazel Burton

Broadstairs, Kent



I’m not surprised that Lesley Smith (letter, 14 December) has been put off cycling – even in Oxford, which seems a very cyclist-aware city.

I am not a cyclist, but the number of letters pointing out that some cyclists ignore red lights and other traffic regulations seem astonishing to me. Plenty of car drivers slip through changing lights, even fail to stop at zebra crossings, and appear to feel they have a right to travel at whatever speed they like, especially through built-up areas. Ignoring 30mph signs is not only dangerous to pedestrians, other drivers and cyclists, but extremely unpleasant for those who live nearby.

Unlit bicycles and foolish behaviour by cyclists certainly can be dangerous, but most accidents are caused by irresponsible and dangerous motorists.

Sarianne Durie

Bampton, Oxfordshire



Matthew Norman (23 December) writes that I believe drug “addiction” is a “sign of moral fecklessness”. No I don’t. I think the expression has no consistent meaning and that it does not describe any objectively discoverable or measurable physical condition. The concept of “addiction” is currently popular because it seems to validate our general retreat from morality and justice based on free will and personal responsibility.

Peter Hitchens





‘There are only four free-standing statues of Cromwell in England, and none was erected under the Protectorate, or subsequently by the state’

Sir, Your corrective editorial (Dec 20) to Vladimir Putin’s comparison of Cromwell and Stalin is much understated in saying “perhaps there is some difference”.

Mr Putin seems obsessed with statues of Cromwell. At a dinner in Sochi in 2010 he responded to a question about the possibility of moving Lenin’s tomb from Red Square by stating that there are statues of Cromwell all over England, and “who was worse, Cromwell, or Stalin?”

Actually, there are only four free-standing statues of Cromwell in England, and none was erected under the Protectorate, or subsequently by the state. Even the one at Westminster was privately funded and controversial, which is probably a surprise to Mr Putin.

While Cromwell was, and still is, a figure of great historical debate, his belief in a providential God and liberty of conscience, distinguishes him absolutely from Stalin and all other dictators of the 20th century. And he played a pivotal role in securing the readmission of the Jews to England under the Protectorate.

John Goldsmith

Cromwell Association

Comberton, Cambs

Sir, If Cromwell’s “most notorious act” lies in the fact that the garrison at Drogheda died under the normal rules of siege warfare in 1649, not massacred, just as the garrison of, say, Badajoz died after Wellington’s siege of 1812 (with no opprobrium falling upon him), then that hardly brings him into the realm of “bloody dictator” when he was neither commander-in-chief of the armed forces nor head of the English government.

Mr Putin was just following the Royalist propaganda which persists in our history books, including the very accessible History of the English Speaking Peoples by Churchill.

Tony Pointon

University of Portsmouth

Sir, Brian Withnall presents the myth of Oliver Cromwell’s “tolerance” (letter, Dec 23). It is an odd sort of tolerance that forbids worship by Roman Catholics, Quakers and Anglicans, the last of whom made up most of the population at the time. In fact Cromwell only tolerated those who agreed with him at the time, as his frequent changes of government system prove. He is often quoted in support of this theory of his tolerance as writing to an opponent on the eve of battle “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken”; however, there is no record that he ever thought he was mistaken. Oh, yes, he also banned Christmas and anything associated with it.

Hugh Mchristian-Carter


Sir, It is a dereliction of moral duty to excuse past massacres such as that perpetrated by Cromwell’s troops at Drogheda on the grounds that they should “be judged by the standards of the time”.

A massacre is mass murder and should be recognised as such. The stain on our history and Cromwell’s reputation should remain; and we should continue to denounce it as vigorously as we denounce those who attempt to justify current atrocities as being contextually acceptable. Otherwise they will continue to use our past behaviour as an excuse for their crimes, and with some justification accuse us of hypocrisy.

Bernard Kingston

Biddenden, Kent


An edited selection of readers’ letters from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, taken from the Times Archive

Football fatality

December 25, 1880
Sir, I venture to disagree with Mr E. C. Clark in attributing a special risk in football as played under the Rugby Union rules, which allow handling, as opposed to the Association rules, which forbid it.

During ten years, in which I played regularly once a week in various Rugby Union clubs, I can only recall one accident, and that was the result of a collision between two players who attempted to kick the ball at the same instant — a casualty far more probable under Association rules than under Rugby.

If our manly sports are to be magisterially interfered with, this great difficulty will arise, “Where to draw the line?” If playing “forward” under Rugby rules is to be restricted, wicket-keeping and fielding “point” at cricket must be abolished altogether, and rowing in a University boat race made a criminal offence.

The remedy for these perils lies in the common sense and manliness of those who engage in our sports. Any attempt at outside regulation would certainly be futile, and might be ridiculous.

I am, Sir, yours obediently,

T. B. R.


December 25, 1883

Sir, Those who do not [understand the risks involved in extending the underground railways to the City] should take a survey of the situation at the corners of Cannon-street and King William-street near to the statue.

The incessant block at these corners baffles description. It causes immense loss of time and temper to passengers, injury to horses and vehicles of all descriptions, and serious detriment, through the impossibility of crossing, to business people having high rents and heavy taxes to meet.

If it were, however, seen that those who have the work in hand were pushing it along with energy or desire to complete, the loss though very great could be borne patiently, but as this seems to be a matter of no importance to the parties concerned, the grievance is intolerable.

Sufficient men are not employed. No work is done at night. As an instance, yesterday morning at 10 not a man was at work, a boy shovelling some gravel into a heap being the only person on the ground.

At 2 p.m. three men were amusing themselves by a little display, but at this rate the final completion of the work, at this, probably the busiest corner of the metropolis, seems to be in the distant future.

We are, Sir, yours obediently,

Mappin Brothers

67 and 68, King William-street, London-bridge




Parking fines, and the amount that local councils make from them, divide motorists fairly evenly across the board

Sir, It is easy to see how Westminster Council achieves its No 1 spot in the Parking Fine league table (report, Dec 23). Queuing for theatre tickets this morning, I watched as two delivery trucks pulled up in St Martin’s Lane. With no parking bays provided, they had to stop on double yellow lines before unloading their supplies.

Sure enough, within seconds, parking wardens pounced, taking photographs and handing tickets to the aggrieved drivers. With daily deliveries necessary in central London, it’s easy money for the councils.

Peter Wallace

London NW3

Sir, As both a motorist in a semi-rural area dependent on (and enjoying) driving and a council tax payer, I very much welcome the news that some councils have the good sense and financial acumen to combine moneymaking and the control of parking. I congratulate them and hope that they will hold firm against populist and foolish campaigns against parking charges.

Roderick W. Ramage

Coppenhall, Stafford



Today anyone who confesses addiction to illegal drugs confesses to a crime and risks a criminal record, with all its consequences

Sir, Before the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, possession of illegal drugs was not a crime. Heroin addicts, for example, could openly admit their addiction, register with their GP and obtain a prescription for unadulterated heroin from a pharmacist. This meant that their health was less likely to suffer from using impure substances and they were also encouraged to start treatment.

Today anyone who confesses addiction to illegal drugs confesses to a crime and risks a criminal record, with all its consequences. There is no evidence that criminalising possession of drugs for personal use acts as a deterrent. In fact, there is every incentive to keep addiction hidden. At present some thousands of people go to jail every year for possession of drugs, at vast public expense and probable ruin of their lives.

The law urgently needs reform, but until the law is reformed, at least the Director of Public Prosecutions should use the discretion she has, and often exercises, not to prosecute if to do so would be against the public interest. This would be particularly appropriate in the case of confessions to drug taking by witnesses in a trial, as it would discourage witnesses from giving frank and possibly relevant evidence, or even from giving evidence at all.

Lord Taverne

House of Lords


Knock them down and start again? Or make every effort to preserve? Two readers disagree vehemently about London’s theatres

Sir, After the distressing events at the Apollo Theatre, we have heard a lot about the need for investment to restore our West End theatres. These late Victorian and Edwardian theatres need no restoration. They need razing. They are not fit for purpose.

We don’t go to the theatre to admire architecture or plasterwork — we go to see plays. West End theatres offer uncomfortable seating, cramped foyers, inadequate toilets, a poor view of the stage and an actor-audience relationship that does not conform to the way we make theatre these days.

These archaic buildings need to be replaced by purpose-built theatres. Lord Lloyd-Webber had the right idea when he said that was what he wanted to do to the Apollo. Shame on the Theatres Trust and English Heritage for trying to prevent it. Let us hope that some good may come of this disaster, and that owners, funders and government stop wasting money on restoration and start putting the art of the theatre above buildings.

David Emmet

London W5

Sir, As a director of Wilton’s Music Hall I was sharply reminded by the Apollo roof fall of the fate that could have occurred to us. There is a precedent for this as, in 1828, on a site in Wellclose Square, near Wilton’s, the roof of the Brunswick Theatre fell in, killing and maiming many. I suspect that this was a design and build fault, as it occurred soon after the theatre opened. Happily, due to the generosity of many institutions, and the public, the roof of Wilton’s has now been refurbished completely .

John Gayner

London E1






Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

* After all that, the lights of the tree still have a sparkle; but I doubt very much whether the eyes of my bank manager will have one when he sees the state of my account after the spending of the last few days.

Also in this section

Letters: Goodbye to two wise men

Letters: Happiness is the greatest gift of all

Letters: Support our own causes

I’m wondering how an infant born into swaddling clothes, in a manger on the side of the road, could have become the catalyst for such an explosion of consumerism.

The thing is I don’t regret a bit of it. Giving is a win-win. Somebody gets something they have wanted, and I share their pleasure.

I am one of the lucky ones because all the children are home; for one that meant a trip from Australia, two others came back from Europe, but the blessing was that we were all under the one roof.

It would be wrong to say that it was all sweetness and light. My lord and master was overtraining the previous night, and managed to doze off with one ear finely embedded in the Christmas pudding.

I was promised the spuds would be peeled when I came home from Mass, instead there was a circle around the Playstation as they shot down Russian Migs and blew up zombies.

So much for goodwill to all men. There was the usual jeering to see what the queen might be wearing for her speech, and then there was the wreckage of the kitchen to attend to.

It was as if a B52 had singled it out for special pounding.

None of it mattered one fig though, they were all home under the one roof and we were a family again.

I couldn’t help but think that that little fella born in swaddling had done an exceptional job.

The year had been tough but last night there was redemption and a little bit of harmony. I hope we were not the only ones who felt it.

When they are all gone again in the new year, I’ll remember the bombed out kitchen fondly, even the exploding zombies will take on an affectionate glow in my heart.




* It was lovely to hear from Santa and the man (and baby) Jesus through the wonderful Christmas letters of Philip O’Neill in Oxford and BB Toal in Monkstown, Co Dublin. Thank you for publishing their rich pickings!




* Can I share with you some of the wisdom I picked up from two Christmas crackers over the last few days?

The Three Stages Of Life:

Stage One: You believe in Santa.

Stage Two: You don’t believe in Santa.

Stage Three: You are Santa.

What did the big cracker say to the little cracker ?

My pop is bigger than yours!




* Conor Faughnan is right to be sceptical about the Government’s consultation document for setting out a low-carbon roadmap for the transport sector.

We already pay more than enough carbon tax (in addition to the usual taxes) on our vehicles and at the filling stations etc.

Any attempt to increase taxes and toll charges with a view to encouraging public transport use is both flawed and disingenuous. I would not be surprised if this document, rather than being an initiative to reduce the number of cars on our roads, is yet another means of increasing the State’s coffers.

The Government knows (or at least, should know) that with a few exceptions, our egregious public transport system is inadequate to cater for the masses. Consequently, in most cases people have little choice other than to continue using their cars.

If the Government decides to go ahead and impose increased road/transport taxes, thenit will be punishing motorists for nothing other than its own failure to deliver a properly functioning public transport system.




* Well I never! There I was, silly old man that I am, thinking that the world financial foul-up started with the American sub-prime insanity quickly spreading like an aggressive cancer eventually to become the root cause for an almost worldwide money meltdown.

Now I hear some Portuguese guru called Barroso says that it was actually little old free-spending Ireland that almost finished off the whole euro set-up!

If this guy has got it right then a comparatively tiny geographical pimple like Ireland with a tiny population almost pulled the plug on the whole eurozone! If that is really the case then surely the whole eurozone concept is far too fragile to continue as is.

On the other hand, if this is simply an uninformed but potentially harmful outburst of bull from Barroso then surely it is time he was granted the usual golden handshake and gold-plated pension and shuffled off the world stage.



* Former prime minister of Portugal and present EU Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso has the bearing, the manner, and a demeanour of gravitas — while our political masters come across as a bunch of serfs, who do precisely what they are instructed to do.

Barroso’s arrogant tirade at last week’s press conference where he laid all the blame of the bust European banking system at Ireland’s door could only have been delivered by a man who hails from “a country by the way that is also on the financial ropes”, but which up until recent times ran an empire that spread across the world, from the Americas to south-east asia. Portugal’s elites made vast fortunes from their colonies.

We’d already taken a hit worse than anything Cromwell ever delivered, and now it seems that Ireland has been left to carry the entire burden of the European banking collapse thanks to the softly, softly approach of our governments.






* In a recent article quoting research by the University of Limerick, it was claimed in this paper that parental arrangements, whether single mother, cohabitants or married parents, made little difference in outcome for the children. This conclusion flies in the face of the bulk of research in this area.

Single mothers are often poorer than other parents. They also find difficulty in coping alone, especially with adolescent boys. Cohabiting arrangements are more prone to breaking up than married partners, endangering the stability of a child’s background.

From personal observation during a 30-year career in education, I have observed first-hand that children of marriages fare better in most cases than those whose parents are not married. Too often under the guise of “equality” the rights of adults to make unstable relationships is put above the rights of a child to live in a settled and secure relationship.



Irish Independent





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