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12April2014Busy day

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: I Hamiliton Jones a spy or is it ballroom dancing? Priceless

Mary in hospital brief visit Peter off for a week

No Scrabbletoday, Perhaps Marywill win tomorrow.


Sue Townsend – obituary

Sue Townsend was the writer whose diaries of spotty teenager Adrian Mole became a publishing sensation

Sue Townsend, author of the Adrian Mole series

Sue Townsend Photo: ROB JUDGES

2:22PM BST 11 Apr 2014

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Sue Townsend, who has died aged 68, was the creator of Adrian Mole, the spotty, lovestruck teenager from Ashby-de-la-Zouch whose comic chronicles of myriad anxieties – political, intellectual, social, sexual – proved the publishing phenomenon of the 1980s and were turned into successful television series, starring Gian Sammarco as the title character.

Including various omnibuses, there were eventually nine volumes of Mole’s diaries; the last – The Prostate Years, published in 2009 – documented him battling cancer as a middle-aged man who runs a bookshop. But it was the early books that particularly gripped the reading public, selling millions of copies and transforming Sue Townsend, a self-confessed “Old Labour type”, from a poverty-stricken single mother-of-three into a rich woman.

Sue Townsend’s ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4’

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾, as the first volume was titled on publication in 1982, unveiled a boy clear-eyed enough to assess the world around him but powerless to shape his own fate. His pursuit of the treacle-haired, middle-class Pandora is defeated by acne, and his self-declared intellectual inclinations by the fact that “I am not very clever”. His slight teenaged frame carried a large dollop of guilt about the state of the nation itself.

While The Secret Diary was devoured by teenagers looking for fiction that accurately reflected their own experiences, Adrian Mole was also a sufficiently convincing Everyman to appeal to other generations too. On the canvas that he provided, Sue Townsend was able to paint a satirical portrait of the day. Mole, she admitted, “is me. He is all of us, to a greater or lesser degree.”

Susan Lillian Townsend was born on April 2 1946 in Leicester, the eldest child in a working-class family. Her father worked in a factory making jet engines before becoming a postman; her mother was a housewife who also worked in the factory canteen. They were, Sue Townsend later said, “very clever” but “idiosyncratic”, and she did not learn to read until she was eight.

No scholar, Sue failed her 11-plus and left South Wigston High School at 15. But, belatedly, the internal, secret world of books increasingly played a central part in her existence. Having started on Richmal Crompton’s Just William, she quickly graduated to Jane Eyre, and from there to Dostoevsky. “Jane Eyre was the first book I read right through, non-stop,” she said. “It was winter, freezing cold, and I remember seeing this thin light outside and realising it was dawn. I got dressed reading, walked to school reading and finished it in the cloakroom at lunchtime. It was riveting.”

She devoured “all the Russians, then the French, then the Americans. I remember getting in trouble for reading The Grapes of Wrath under my desk in a boring lesson.” Yet her going to university “wasn’t even considered. You went into shoes or hosiery.”

She took on a series of unskilled jobs – on a garage forecourt, in a café making “tropical coffees” – and, at 18, married a sheet-metal worker. By the time she was in her early twenties she had three small children.

Life was hard. “Poverty grinds you down – it just pins you to a certain location,” she said. “There’s no movement – no freedom to move. Being poor with three small children is terrifying. You can’t make any plans. You know you’re not going on holiday, ever. There’s no way you could ever afford driving lessons or a car. And the guilt I used to feel: they had holes in their shoes and at one point I had to send them to school wearing Wellingtons when the sun was shining.”

Sue Townsend (ANDREW FOX)

But to the secret world of books she added, in the small hours of the night when the children were asleep, the secret world of writing. Her efforts accumulated in an empty box under the stairs: “I knew I wasn’t good enough. When you’re reading Updike, how can you be?” But whatever voice, whatever genre, she tried, the results always tended to the comic.

She was 25 when her husband left her, having belatedly discovered the hippie movement. Slaving away to make ends meet, she took on several jobs, one of them helping to run adventure courses for children. On a canoeing course she met Colin Broadway, who would become her second husband.

Her writing began to emerge from the shadows in 1978, when she joined the Writers’ Group at Leicester’s Phoenix Arts Centre. There she produced a play, Womberang, which won her a Thames TV bursary. (There would be several other stage plays, including Bazaar and Rummage (1982) and, in 1989, Disneyland It Ain’t.) It was one Sunday around this period when the character of Adrian Mole “descended” fully formed into her head.

“I was living in a council house at the time,” she recalled, “on my own with three kids and three part-time jobs to keep us going. So Sunday was a total collapse; I was exhausted. My eldest son said: ‘Why can’t we go to safari parks like other families do?’” It was she, said, “that adolescent, self-pitying voice. Mole’s voice. I just heard it.”

Sue Townsend set out to capture the claustrophobia that teenagers feel in the family home, “a brooding and seething: you feel it coming through the floorboards”. Mole’s first incarnation was as Nigel, but Nigel Mole was too similar to another fictional schoolboy, Nigel Molesworth. So she changed the name to Adrian and sent a radio play to John Tydeman, head of drama for Radio 4. Broadcast in January 1982, it was a huge popular success and led to a book contract. Nine months later The Secret Diary was published, and within a month it was top of the bestseller lists; within a year it had sold a million copies.

Gian Sammarco as Adrian Mole in the Thames TV production of ‘The Secret Diary’ (REX)

Her books were adapted into three television series, The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole ( Thames Television, both starring Gian Sammarco, 1985-87) and Adrian Mole: the Cappuccino Years (starring Stephen Mangan, BBC One, 2001). The fame and fortune Adrian Mole brought Sue Townsend ultimately allowed her to escape the poverty of her early years. She even bought the pretty Victorian vicarage to which, in her days as a struggling young mother, she had come to pay rent to her landlord.

But she was not able to enjoy her new, comfortable existence for long. In the mid-1980s, when she was still in her 30s, she suffered a heart attack, the first dramatic sign of the debilitating diabetes that would afflict her for the rest of her life. That ill health was compounded, in her last decade and more, by Charcot’s joint – degenerative arthritis, which meant she could not move far without a wheelchair.

She was, by her own admission, “the world’s worst diabetic”, finding the disease hard to manage. Worst of all, however, was the loss of her sight. For someone as passionate about books as Sue Townsend, it was a heavy blow. “Learning to be blind is incredibly hard work,” she told The Observer in 2001. “In my sleep I had a haemorrhage in both eyes and when I woke my eyes were full of this black haze, like thick black smoke. I thought there was a fire. I staggered around, trying to put it out. It wasn’t on the stove, so I thought it was upstairs, and of course I took the black smoke with me, looking for it. It was inside my head. Oh God. So I went to the doctor and said: ‘Am I utterly blind now?’ And he said to me, ‘Yes, you’re quite blind.’ And that was it. All very English. There are no ceremonies for these things.”

She mourned the fact that she would “never see an individual snowdrop again… never see my grandchildren grow and change”. But she remained resolutely upbeat — at least in public, confessing that when it came to bouts of self-pity: “I prefer to do it in private.”

The many interviewers she met recorded the tumbling, throaty laughter that continued to lace her conversation. And the books kept coming too. As well as the periodic arrival of a new volume of Adrian Mole, she wrote six other novels, including The Queen and I (1992), a satire about the Royal family living on a housing estate after a republican uprising. A sequel, Queen Camilla, came out in 2006. Her last book, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, was published in 2012. These she completed by dictating, usually to her son Sean, who in 2009 donated to his mother one of his kidneys .

Last year Sue Townsend suffered a stroke. She had plans for a new volume of Adrian Mole, which she hinted, possibly jokingly, might be “about anarchy, with the ensuing rape and pillage”. Social media was another possibility: “He will be blogging and twittering – but in a quite incompetent way.”

As her health continued to deteriorate, however, Sue Townsend realised that she was unlikely to complete a new volume. This did not dispirit her: “I honestly think of [Adrian Mole] as a character living his own life. He’s doing things that I don’t even know about. And he hasn’t told me; I haven’t been to see him for a while.”

Sue Townsend was awarded two honorary doctorates, including one from the University of Leicester, her home town.

She is survived by her husband and four children.

Sue Townsend, born April 2 1946, died April 10 2014


The issue of non-repayment raised by the Sutton Trust and the Institute for Fiscal Studies is just one of the problems with the student loan system (Report, 10 April). By introducing lower monthly repayments as a sweetener when the £9,000 fees were introduced, the government has in fact created something more burdensome for graduates by locking them into an average of 26 years of debt. Add this to the unsustainable cost of unpaid student loans to the government and the scale of the problem falls into perspective. We are looking at intelligent reforms that address the fundamental problems of the system without radical overhaul. It is highly possible – indeed, there is an international precedent – to design a loan system that reduces the long-term burden of debt for graduates and eliminates the cost to government of non-repayment. Not only would this stop the spiralling cost to government of student loans, but would allow government to invest directly in higher education teaching and learning more strategically.
Libby Hackett
Chief executive, University Alliance

• Supporters of the massive expansion in university education point out that lifetime earnings for graduates are higher than for non-graduates, but this does not prove that the degree was beneficial. Those who qualify for university already, on average, have higher earnings potential than those who do not. In addition, many graduates, particularly from non-Russell Group universities, end up in jobs that may ask for a degree, but only because some employers use a degree as a filtering device. Those same jobs a few decades ago might have been taken by a well-qualified 16-year-old. The desired social and cultural benefits of university education are also minimal for those who attend their local university and have to do long hours of paid work to survive, leaving no time for student societies, student politics or indeed the traditional discussions about the meaning of life.I graduated in 1982 and will no doubt be accused of wishing to deny to others the benefits that I received of going to university. However, most students are not receiving the benefits that existed 32 years ago. Instead they are left with a huge debt.
Richard Mountford
Tonbridge, Kent

When I sell my car I am legally obliged to give the buyer information about it that could adversely affect its value. When I sell my house I have the same legal obligation and I can be held to account if I fail to do so. It seems however that I can sell £500m of drugs to the government with no such responsibility (Report, 11 April).
Patrick Reynolds
Sevenoaks, Kent

• It is notable that the three politicians whom Martin Kettle cites (Comment, 10 April) whose private lives would be unsustainable today – Gladstone, Asquith, and Lloyd George – were all Liberals. Lloyd George was also involved in the sale of honours in the early 1920s with Maundy Gregory, the man who dealt with the business side of it all.
Richard Dargan
Old Coulsdon, Surrey

• Working class solidarity has, as Selina Todd indicates (Comment, 10 April), brought important victories, but not for “ordinary working class” people. It’s about time this lazy and patronising cliche, so beloved of politicians, was abolished. There are no “ordinary people”, only extraordinary individuals, each unique with a story to tell.
Tony Judge
Twickenham, Middlesex

• You illustrate an article which, inter alia, upbraids the political class for patronising the workers with a photo of Blackpool – were you being ironic?
Lou George
Kendal, Cumbria

• No, Adrian Searle, the new Glasgow School of Art building is not opposite the Mackintosh Museum (In at the deep end, 8 April). It’s opposite the Mackintosh-designed art school which 100-plus years on is still GSA’s main building. What were you thinking of?
Jackie Heaton

• Now that Michael D Higgins has given us such a fine example (Report, 8 April), perhaps we should consider combining the posts of poet laureate and head of state. The jobs both require an ability to declaim in public and a sensitive use of language. An election every five years, with candidates required to versify on the hustings would work. Carol Ann Duffy can fill in until the first vote.
Roger Osborne

It is a measure of the disarray of the Better Together campaign that even Menzies Campbell (I’ll vote no in September because I love Scotland, 8 April), who is – in stark contrast to the ludicrous scaremonger Lord Robertson – one of its more sensible supporters, but he still manages to put forward a case that is riddled with errors.

For a start, there’s his contention that Scotland does not suffer a “democratic deficit”. If repeatedly voting for Labour and, more recently, SNP majorities, but, more often than not, finding ourselves governed by Tories at Westminster is not a “democratic deficit”, what is? Once again, Better Together (which is poisoned in Scotland by including the Conservative party) fails to understand the deep anti-Tory anger that fuels the vote for Scottish independence.

Campbell maintains that the British empire came to an end “more peacefully than others”. There are many people around the globe – from the descendants of those massacred at Amritsar, to the Palestinians dispossessed under a blueprint created by the Balfour declaration and the liberation fighters of the Kenyan Mau Mau tortured and castrated by the British army – who must feel relieved that it didn’t end more violently. For a significant minority of people in Scotland (myself included), a yes vote in September’s referendum is also a conscious rejection of the barbaric imperial history of the British state.

Finally, Campbell argues that “Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats publicly acknowledge” that the Scottish parliament should have increased powers, especially economic powers, within the union.

This smacks of shutting the barn door long after the horse has bolted, been caught and turned into dubious hamburgers. It’s now 18 months since David Cameron pointedly refused to allow the “greater powers” option (known as “devolution max”) to appear on the referendum paper. If the obvious majority for devo max turns to a pro-independence majority, the pro-union forces will have no one to blame but themselves.
Mark Brown

• Owen Jones is entirely correct in suggesting that the no campaign on Scottish independence is being deliberately antagonistic to Scots in its campaigning methods (We should not be trying to bully Scots into voting no, 9 April). This is hardly surprising. David Cameron and his fellow Conservatives know full well that a yes vote in the referendum will condemn what remains of the United Kingdom to perpetual Tory governments. Little wonder then that a large amount of threatening reverse psychology is being employed by vociferous elements in the “better together” team, secretly hoping for a “sod you” yes result.
Tim Matthews
Luton, Bedfordshire

• George Robertson, former Nato secretary-general, says Scottish independence would be “cataclysmic”. But Scotland has not even said it would leave Nato, although it could be refused entry if it rejects nuclear weapons. That could be a step forward in world stability in demonstrating that security is not assured by Nato and its nuclear arms. Nuclear arms and the UK’s part of the US Trident nuclear armed submarine fleet based at Faslane are the source of dangers, not deterrence. A nuclear weapons convention that is a global ban is imperative if the world is to be a safer place. Scotland could show the way.
Rae Street
Littleborough, Lancashire

• Lord Robertson’s comments in Washington do the anti-Scottish independence team a disservice. Britain’s status minus Scotland would not be diminished: witness almost a century without the Republic of Ireland. To propose that Whitehall would be unable to fulfill its tasks alongside resolving the separation of an independent Scotland credits that institution with an unbelievable degree of incompetency.
Robert Walker
Kinross, Perth and Kinross

• Re: Lord Robertson is trying to bully Scots into voting no. I’m off to the bookies to put £50 on a yes vote.
Veronica Gordon Smith

• The headlong dash for Scottish independence may be forced to decelerate once Alex Salmond and his supporters properly reflect on the remarkable force with which the EU, with total IMF support, punishes its smallest members, like Cyprus, when their financial affairs become unsustainable.
Graham Brown

You say that Hancock’s Half Hour “is widely regarded as the first British sitcom” (New voices for lost Hancock radio episodes, 8 April), but in fact there were several radio sitcoms before Hancock in 1954. Both Educating Archie with ventriloquist Peter Brough and Archie Andrews, and Life With the Lyons, with Ben Lyon, his wife Bebe Daniels and their children Richard and Barbara, began in 1950. Meet the Huggetts, with Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison, started in 1952 and A Life of Bliss, with David Tomlinson and later George Cole, aired from 1953. Many of these shows can be heard on BBC Radio 4 Extra, along with other classics such as Beyond Our Ken, Round the Horne, The Goon Show, Take It From Here and, of course, Hancock’s Half Hour, all of which are still funnier than most current radio comedy.
Michael Darvell
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire


You may find this the only  letter you receive that offers support or apology for Maria Miller. She is my constituency MP, a  role I and others can confirm that she carries out assiduously and very effectively, even though I’ve never voted Tory.  It seems she has been crucified by the media for a combination of things: her unfortunate amnesia over expenses claimed under a discredited regime over five years ago; her lack of humility in apologising for something where she felt she’d been found not guilty; and  her failure to implement a post-Leveson regime acceptable to the media.

The vitriol rains down on her. Her crime seems to be weakness and apparent arrogance in taking advantage of an expenses regime that still has a long way to go before it passes reasonable probity tests. However, let’s just consider whether, compared to what should be happening in respect of,  say, the leaders of the Met,  a sense of proportion has  been lost. Or does the media have different standards for those who offend it directly?

Geoff Burnes, Basingstoke

Come on Basingstoke, finish the job: deselect your MP, or even better just vote her out!

Maria Miller will still walk away with a prospective profit of £600,000 to £1m, depending on how much capital gains tax she can get away with, on a taxpayer-financed home for her parents!

Not bad work, even by MPs’ standards.

Dr A D Kitcher, High Wycombe

I can’t say I’ve shed  any tears over the resignation of Maria Miller. With the  opportunistic Nigel Farage hotfooting it to Basingstoke, we now have the even more unpalatable prospect of a Ukip MP here.

Recognising her responsibility for this, many here hope she will quickly resign as our constituency MP too!

Like many before her, Maria Miller has been far from transparent and has gained financially on selling the property at the centre of her expenses scandal. She was grossly over-claiming her expenses. Only when cornered did she eventually resign.

And the Government wonders why the electorate is so disengaged.

Tony Corbin, Basingstoke

The Maria Miller case demonstrates the power wielded by the press and the reluctance of politicians, with the possible exception of David Cameron, to stand up to the perception of public opinion reported by the press, which is often manufactured to sell newspapers and influenced by the style of reporting.

Grant Shapps, on  The Daily Politics, was positively fawning over the rights of a free press and Ian Burrell’s comment (10 April) that Sajid Javid would not want to risk his generally good press “by putting pressure on papers to sign up to the unpopular Royal Charter” says it all about how the press applies its own  pressure on politicians to get what it wants.

Richard Lott, Chepstow

Maria Miller cannot  blame her role in Leveson. Her actions, and those of other MPs in reducing her payback to £5,800 show how out of touch they are with middle England. Their actions simply show greed, followed by arrogance. David Cameron has shown poor leadership.

Dennis Jones, Edgmond, Shropshire

Maria Miller is not redundant, she has a job; she has been demoted. No one but a politician  would get a cheque because they could mistake the need to claim accurately for expenses paid from public funds.

The “redundancy cheque” is as great an insult to the taxpayer as the original fraud. There is no excuse for failing to claim accurately for up-to-date mortgage costs.

Jonathan Devereux, St Albans

Useless flu drugs

Congratulations on the excellent article concerning the fortune squandered by the Government on the ineffective drugs obtained  to combat a predicted  “flu epidemic” (10 April).

I recall unheeded reservations by professionals that the claims made on the performance of the drugs were without adequate testing or substantiated proof. Such a newspaper article is rare and, for me, makes i such a bargain (notwithstanding the price appeal to a Scot).

Robert Gordon Clark, Gorebridge, Midlothian

While the Government is rightly criticised for its naivety in trusting drug companies when purchasing anti-flu drugs, what of the companies themselves?

Jeff Smith, Beeston, Bedfordshire

Online protesters

I sign petitions on Change.org, 38 degrees and Avaaz. I am disabled and could not get to London to march or stand and protest. Online petitions are a boon to people like me who want to be politically active and register opposition to this government but physically cannot do so.

Matthew Norman  (9 April) would do well to remember that we are not all physically able.

Ian Foster, Brentford, Middlesex

Why we got  rid of Saddam

Susan Boldrini (letter, 9 April) asks “what exactly we gained” from intervening in Iraq.

We gained the removal of a genocidal, WMD-ambitious despot who had bombed and invaded his neighbours; repressed, tortured and gassed his opponents; harboured terrorists; sponsored suicide bombers; stoked ethnic hatred and extreme Islamist and anti-Western sentiment; torched oilfields; destroyed marshlands; wrecked his country’s economy; ignored UN resolutions; duped, bribed and expelled weapons inspectors; and provoked sanctions that killed 100,000 innocent Iraqis annually.

We paid a price for our intervention and we would have paid a price for not intervening.

Keith Gilmour, Glasgow

Bird that soared to disaster

On 9 April you carried an interesting snippet about the bar-headed goose, which you state is the world’s highest-flying bird, flying at over  23,000 feet.

However, on 29 November 1973 an aircraft flying over Abidjan, Ivory Coast, suffered a bird strike at 37,000 feet. Upon landing, enough remained of the bird to  identify it as a Ruppell’s vulture (Gyps rueppellii). This has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s highest-flying bird, as a result of this incident.

Bill Robinson, Slough

Offshore  island

Andreas Whittam Smith is right (10 April).

Britain outside the EU wouldn’t be a ship of state like the one that traded the world from the 16th century to the 1960s, the British Empire. It would be more like the Isle of Man (chief industries: tourism and nil corporation tax).

Mike Belbin, London SW3

Ofqual has announced tougher new GCSEs and A-levels, but we at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) are concerned the changes will do little to alleviate concerns from employers who they say struggle to find young people with the skills they need. It is widely agreed that reform is needed, but we are concerned that this has been rushed through and will not deal with the issues it attempts to solve.

GCSEs and A-levels do not always provide the level of practical experience that employers need. The IET’s most recent Skills and Demand in Industry report showed that 42 per cent of employers told us that they were disappointed with the skills of new employees. Many of the UK’s engineering employers are suffering from engineering skills gaps, shortages and an ageing workforce, which will only get worse in the future when huge numbers of engineers and technicians are forecast to be needed for new infrastructure and energy projects.

One way to address these concerns could be by schools arranging work experience placements for students or by promoting apprenticeships.

It is vital that we encourage more students to study science and engineering as we are facing a skills crisis. But it is also vitally important that young people learn the crucial skills that employers are so desperate for.

Stephanie Fernandes, Institution of Engineering and Technology,  London WC2

Glenys Stacey, chief executive of OfQual, thinks that testing practical knowledge is as good as testing practical skills in science examinations. The first and most obvious point is to pray she never gets her hands on the driving test.

Far more seriously, removing practical skills from the final exam assessment is quite likely to diminish the time devoted to them, because of the time pressures to complete an already over-full curriculum. This is a terrible shame. From my own experience as a teacher, I know that the first question pupils asked coming into a science lesson was, “Is this a practical lesson?” The delight and enthusiasm the practical lessons created was fundamental to the enjoyment, and hence achievement, of the pupils.

Science is about developing a hypothesis in answer to a question, then testing it practically and evaluating the result. To think that it is not necessary to test this skill and include it in the final examination grade is the mark of a scientifically illiterate mind.

Brian Dalton, Sheffield

Schools, taxes and equality

While totally disagreeing with Chris Blackhurst’s support for a flat-rate 27 per cent tax rate – the idea that it would “put all those tax advisers out of business” is preposterous – I wholeheartedly agree with his proposal to end private schools (“What would I do if I were Prime Minister?”, 11 November)

His argument that private education is “unfair and insidious” and is the reason for so much being “wrong with our nation today” is spot-on, but strangely, those are the same points I would use to explain my opposition to flat-rate taxes.

With so much inequality in the country now, and, according to one source, Britain 28th out of 34 in the equality league table, it is essential the rich pay much more in income tax; if Thatcher could live with a top rate of 60 per cent, I am sure the country would welcome it now.

Tax avoidance will continue as long as there is no determination at government level to end it, and as long as perpetrators, when discovered, are allowed to escape punishment and disgrace.

Bernie Evans, Liverpool

I completely agree with Jason Priestly’s letter (11 April) in response to Chris Blackhurst’s article on housing (9 April).

In the same article, Mr Blackhurst described inheritance tax as “the most ludicrous tax there is”, yet in his article of 11 April, on education, he asks: “Why should some children be given a better chance just because their parents are wealthy?” Inheritance tax is one means of redressing such imbalances.

John Armstrong, Southampton

Blakelock: the hunt goes on

After nearly 30 years, the police’s attempt to secure the conviction of Keith Blakelock’s murderer amounts to an attempt to secure another set of wrongful convictions. The police have been convinced of the guilt of everyone that they have prosecuted, including Winston Silcott.

The police’s behaviour in the Blakelock case stands in stark contrast to their inactivity in the 1979 case of Blair Peach. The National Council for Civil Liberties found in its unofficial Committee of Inquiry that he was almost certainly murdered by members of the Special Patrol Group.

Tony Greenstein, Brighton

Congratulations on your headline “No Justice for PC Keith Blakelock” (10 April). This man, while protecting firefighters, was murdered by a mob of sadists. Yet a number of “community leaders” came on television and argued for closure!

The actions of the Metropolitan Police have been abysmal. However, the suggestion that the pursuit of Blakelock’s killers be dropped is appalling.

 What would the reaction have been if a white person had suggested that Stephen Lawrence’s killers should not be pursued because it was too difficult. Correctly they were pursued for years and punished for their evil crime. PC Blakelock’s family deserve a continued search for justice.

Michael Lloyd, London N4

Don’t give in to veiled fanatics

Mary Dejevsky’s article on the Rebekah Dawson case (8 April) leaves me shocked, worried and absolutely livid. Rebekah only proves the point, and justifies our long-held cultural belief, that people who hide their faces are not to be trusted. Clearly it wasn’t just her Islamic modesty at work here. As well as intimidating the witness her husband had previously assaulted, she supports the barbaric slaughter of people on our streets.

My main concern is why our court system is pandering to atavistic customs and bullying fanatics? Anyone who testifies in, or enters, a court of law should show his face. That is English custom and should be English law. You can’t enter a petrol station wearing a crash helmet, so why can you enter a court wearing a full face mask?

When English law conflicts with Sharia law (or indeed any other religious law), or the cultural customs of some Muslims, that’s unfortunate, but the law must prevail. As long as those who genuinely and passionately want to live under Sharia law live in this country, under English law, they must be treated the same as everyone else in the legal system. Anything else is giving in to fanaticism for a quiet life, which never ends well.

Monica Scott, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Those Smokers are still working

I am absolutely incensed at the comments made by Janet Street-Porter (5 April). How dare she suggest that the “sad clusters” of people gathered outside buildings having a cigarette are wasting time and should have their pay docked?

My husband, now an ex-smoker, JSP will be pleased to hear, would work for approximately two hours then go outside for a cigarette. The time was a welcome break from his computer, the time spent thinking over his next task and often answering queries from those outside doing the same. This time was certainly no more than that spent making coffee, chatting at the photocopier or watercooler. He worked hard, provided a good service to his company and had an exemplary attendance record.

Yes, it is tragic that her sister died from the effects of smoking – so did my first husband – but I have never allowed it to drive me to add to the misery of those in the workplace.

Michelle Webb, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Cameron’s gospel for a time of austerity

The gospel according to Cameron’s Big Society: if you can’t pay your rent you will become a refugee in your own country; if you can’t afford to feed your family you will have to beg from a food bank; if you can’t stay out of jail you won’t even have anything to read.

“Unto every one that hath shall be given and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him” – Luke 19.

Think again, Mr Cameron.

Sylvia Hyden, Wolverhampton

A culture of profiteering

Our new Culture Secretary  has praised ticket touts for simply filling a gap in the market – proper entrepreneurs. A bit like pickpockets simply filling a gap in the pocket?

Lorna Roberts, London N2

Historic moments

Moments of the Great War: very good. No need for a book; I am keeping them in a file for my grandchildren.

Sue Richmond-Allen. Malvern,  Worcestershir


Should science A levels include a practical component? Teachers are divided on the question

Sir, It is outrageous that Ofqual is planning to remove practicals from science exams (“Scientists have lost battle to keep A-level exams practical”, Apr 9). It says it is concerned that practicals can be compromised by students using Twitter. Indeed, assessment of every subject is “compromised” by students using technology; if this was a remotely valid argument of Ofqual’s, we ought to ban paper, books, pens and glasses too (as well as school buildings). The solution is to update the syllabus so that students are taught how to make best use of technology, not to misrepresent it as cheating.

Ofqual also says teachers may be unreliable at assessing practicals. This is thoroughly demeaning, but if so, universities have developed quality controls to assure reliable assessment. If these processes are good enough for degrees, they ought to be good enough for schools. If Ofqual really believes teachers are unreliable, it is more important to face that problem directly rather than running away from it, which is all banning practicals achieves.

Professor Harold Thimbleby

Swansea University

Sir, Those who argue for practical examinations in school science are wrong. In the 1950s/60s I was subjected to A-level practical exams — they were an artificial barrier and I never did well in them, relying on my theory papers to boost my marks. I went on to a satisfying career as a clinical biochemist and later as part of a research team in Oxford investigating insect muscle proteins. Later still I became a chemistry teacher. The problems caused by practical coursework or examination had not gone away. Hours drilling children in how to add marble chips to hydrochloric acid and, worse, in what they should observe, seemed very sterile.

One of my first actions as head of department in an independent school was to abandon GCSEs which had an examined practical component and opt for IGCSEs with the practical aspects examined on the theory paper — this increased the range and amount of practical I taught in my classes, rather than reducing it, to the pupils’ increased enjoyment of the subject.

Joanna L Bell

Chilson, Oxon

Sir, Ofqual has announced tougher new GCSEs and A levels, but we at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) are concerned the changes will do little to alleviate concerns of employers who struggle to find young people with the skills they need. It is widely agreed that reform is needed but we are concerned that this has been rushed through and will not deal with the issues it attempts to solve. GCSEs and A levels do not always provide the level of practical experience that employers need. The IET’s recent Skills & Demand in Industry report showed that 42 per cent of employers were
disappointed with the skills of new employees. In addition many engineering employers are suffering from engineering skills gaps, shortages and an ageing workforce, which will only get worse in the future when huge numbers of engineers and technicians are forecast to be needed for new infrastructure and energy projects.

Stephanie Fernandes

Institution of Engineering and Technology

We waste vast quantities of food. With the right health and legal controls one solution is to feed it to pigs

Sir, One way to reduce the shocking amount of waste food discarded by consumers in industrialised nations — highlighted by the House of Lords EU committee — is to remove the ban on feeding waste food (swill) to pigs.

Heating products contaminated with pig diseases such as foot and mouth to 100C for 1 hour will render them safe for feeding to pigs. Leaving responsibility for the heat treatment to farmers is inadequate. In 2001 the failure of one farmer to follow the rules resulted in the FMD epidemic which cost the UK some £10 billion. Strict procedures to ensure that waste food was properly heat treated and handled could, for example, be done at licensed premises under the supervision of local authorities.

In addition to reducing our scandalous waste of food, removing the ban would be a significant financial benefit to pig farmers who no longer have to buy expensive feed, often based on imported grain.

Alex Donaldson

(Head, Pirbright Laboratory, Institute for Animal Health, 1989-2002)

Burpham, Surrey

A reader praises Tony Blair for his willingness to state unpopular truths about western military action in Syria

Sir, Tony Blair was right to criticise Parliament’s failure to approve military action against Syria and to predict catastrophic consequences both for the people of Syria and for the UK (“We’ll pay for staying out of Syria”, Apr 8).

The long-term damage to Britain’s special relationship with the United States is incalculable and while the decision may have been forgiven by the current US administration, this will not have gone unnoticed by
those aspiring to succeed Barack Obama.

Not only has the free world permitted the use of chemical weapons to go unpunished, it is hard not to conclude that such appeasement of the Assad regime has at the very least provided succour to President Putin.

I have always disagreed with his politics but Mr Blair deserves my respect for his courage, foresight and willingness to state unpopular truths.

Philip Duly

Haslemere, Surrey

The economic conditions are right for us to be much more adventurous and high-tech in the way we build our houses

Sir, The rising cost of building sites has pushed the ratio of “site cost” to “fabric cost” from about 1:5 40 years ago to about 3:2 now. This, and the the serious skill shortage highlighted by Mike Bialyj (letter, Apr 7), should be an opportunity to drag house construction out of the past.

Modern industry is an impressive mix of consumerism, technological innovation and highly sophisticated production methods, all applicable to the problem of providing homes — in stark contrast to the conventional brick-built house, a soulless kit of parts, archaic, inflexible, expensive, technically inept, environmentally destructive and aesthetically joyless.

A change of approach must come, sooner or later.

R. Goodall

Bewdley, Worcs

Some say depression is over-diagnosed among the elderly but Esther Rantzen says it is all too common, and ignored

Sir, The chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ old age faculty, of which I am a member, is misguided in suggesting that millions of older people are suffering from undiagnosed “depression” (Apr 8).

Depressive disorder is hugely overdiagnosed in all age groups, including the elderly. Yes, many older people have grave problems with illness, disability, bereavement, loss of independence and isolation. Such distress reflects poorly on our society, but it is not a disease to be treated by doctors.

Yet antidepressants are dished out like proverbial Smarties to the elderly. Common side effects including falls, confusion and salt imbalance can occasionally lead to serious ill-health and even death. I seek not to alarm the relatively small number of older people who are truly mentally ill and for whom the benefits of such drugs outweigh the risks, but overtreatment is the true crisis.

Dr Richard Braithwaite

Ryde, Isle of Wight

Sir, Jenni Russell (Apr 10) correctly spotlights the feelings of loneliness and loss that all too often afflict older people. When The Silver Line launched in 2013 we commissioned a survey which found that 2.5 million older people admitted that they often felt lonely, but there is a stigma attached to loneliness which prevents them reaching out for help; 84 per cent don’t confess their feelings even to their family, because they don’t want to be a burden. It’s not just pride, it’s about a national attitude to older people. Some 800 callers a day are using the free, confidential 24-hour telephone line because, as one said, “When I get off the phone, I feel like I belong to the human race.”

Is it not a disgraceful reflection that anyone in the UK should feel they are no longer a part of the human race, simply because they are older?

Esther Rantzen

London NW3

The founder of the Virgin Group reckons his investment in Virgin Galactic will be the best he has ever made

Sir, You spoke of Virgin Galactic being a black hole (Apr 7). Sadly we won’t be travelling that far, but if you mean our finances on Earth, I’m pleased to say it’s anything but a black hole. I believe our investment in Virgin Galactic will prove to be the best I’ve made in 40 years of business.

As to Virgin Atlantic, now the 787s are finally arriving after a three-year delay, it will return to profitability by the end of the financial year as we forecast in our two-year plan.

Virgin Atlantic has a proud tradition of challenging the status quo for the last 30 years, and we look forward to doing the same for the next 30.

Richard Branson

Virgin Group


The ship of the Fens: Ely Cathedral, with its octagonal lantern, looking eastward  Photo: Neil Holmes/Getty Images

6:58AM BST 11 Apr 2014

Comments80 Comments

SIR – One of the great views of the English landscape is that of Ely Cathedral from the Fens, approaching on the A142 coming from Stuntney. There is considerable anxiety that this view will be compromised by the proposed Ely southern bypass.

This development, which has overwhelming local public support, is being opposed by English Heritage.

The Chapter of Ely Cathedral wishes to record publicly that it is totally supportive of the proposals being considered.

Certainly, one particular viewpoint (seen only from the river by a handful of people) will be compromised, but the iconic view from Stuntney that thousands of people see daily will not. The loss of part of the southern view is far outweighed by the community benefit that will result from the alleviation of current traffic congestion at the railway crossing, and by allowing large vehicles to bypass the city.

We wish the Cathedral to be set at the heart of a thriving community. As the population and economy of the local area grow, this development is essential. We urge Cambridgeshire County Council to recommend the proposals, and the Secretary of State to do likewise.

The Very Rev Mark Bonney
Dean, Ely Cathedral

SIR – Fraser Nelson says that “the good British Muslim is truly one amongst us – and proud to be so”. That is right, but it skates over the deeper problem within Islam, which is a single political, religious and legal system, taking its authority solely from the Koran, the Hadith and the Sunna.

Unfortunately, the things Mohammed did and said later in his life – the “Verses of the Sword” – give ample inspiration and justification to the jihadists, and, under the Muslim tenet of “abrogation”, are held to outweigh the earlier “Verses of Peace”.

Since September 11 2001, there have been some 18,000 attacks by Islamists worldwide, killing 206,000 people (45 a day), a majority of them Muslim.

So the question becomes: if Islam is a religion of peace, and if the Jihadists form such a tiny minority, why do the vast majority not get together and issue a fatwa to cast them out of Islam?

Couldn’t they organise a Great Council and decree that the Verses of the Sword are to be taken as referring to the internal struggle between good and evil in each one of us, and that true Islam flows only from the Verses of Peace?

If they don’t, is it because they daren’t?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch
London SW1

Elderly driving

SIR – I recently watched an elderly man park his car, get out, and walk to the local shop. This took a considerable time, as he was severely limited in his physical movements and walked with a stick.

Shouldn’t we consider introducing a test to establish whether the driver of a car is capable of exiting the vehicle in an emergency within 30 seconds? Should this man be involved in an accident, he would compromise the safety of anyone trying to assist him in escaping from the car.

Ian Carter
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

Size large

SIR – I can’t believe that the Chief Medical Officer thinks size 16 women are overweight or obese. Marilyn Monroe was a size 16.

Those of us treating children with eating disorders have long been campaigning for shops to abandon their anorexic-like mannequins. Well done, Debenhams. Let’s hope fashion magazines soon follow suit.

Dr Dee Dawson
London NW7

Bathroom furniture

SIR – The Rev Roger Holmes asks where he can put his gin and tonic in a bath with a rounded side. He should buy an extendable bath tray, which will balance on any bath surround. This can accommodate not only his G&T, but also other requisites such as rubber ducks and submarines. It is even possible to include a stand for his breviary.

Geoffrey Taylor
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Project midnight

SIR – One day, while I was perusing the parish notice board, a notice caught my attention. It was headed: “You are to be part of a new innovative project”. Oh, I thought, what can this be – super-fast broadband, perhaps?

Reading the fine print, I discovered that the local authority would be turning off the street lights at midnight.

Keith Taylor
Leavenheath, Essex

Police sickness

SIR – The Independent Police Complaints Commission has produced a report detailing how complaints about police officers are distributed around the various forces, an idea I proposed in the Letters page of The Daily Telegraph on July 11, 2013.

How long before we are allowed to see similar tables showing how sickness absence and overtime payments are distributed? The cost to the taxpayer must be massive in delaying the implementation of such an obvious management tool, which allows statistical anomalies to be readily identified and credible explanations quite rightly demanded.

John Kenny
Acle, Norfolk

Papers, papers!

SIR – Those who travel with the wrong passportsshould be reassured. Twenty-five years ago, when I was a medico-legal adviser, I was telephoned by a doctor who had accompanied a party of elderly ladies on a coach trip to Italy.

One of the ladies had died suddenly in Italy. Rather than delay the whole party by reporting her death to the Italian authorities, the doctor propped up the deceased in the coach as if she were asleep. They drove through the night to Calais and crossed the Channel to Dover with only a head count and presentation of the correct number of passports at the borders. I advised the doctor to report to the nearest coroner and heard no more.

Dr Garth Hill
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

SIR – Years ago I had a family emergency in Britain and had to rush home. I could not find my passport, so I telephoned the emergency number of the British Consulate in Amsterdam and was politely told to call back the next day (it was a Sunday). About a year later, I related this to the Consul General in Amsterdam, and he informed me: in these situations, don’t bother with the passport, go directly to the airport and fly with British Airways.

Andy Bugden
Bao’an, Shenzhen, China

Fashion babes

SIR – What a relief that, at Prince George’s recent engagement, no baby had the audacity to commit a fashion faux pas by appearing in the same dungarees as him.

Jeremy Dore
Coggeshall, Essex

The danger of paying for good manners in a pub

SIR – I cannot believe that bar staff will be polite only if there is the promise of a tip. Anyone in the service industry should be customer-focused. If they are not, they should work elsewhere.

Chris Yates
Peasedown St John, Somerset

SIR – For 30 years, the Masons Arms at South Leigh, Oxfordshire, bore a sign above the door: “Vegetarians by appointment only”.

The pub’s shabby chic ambience and its grub were outstanding – even the late Michael Winner liked his meal, if not the landlord, Gerry Stonhill, who subsequently revelled in having irritated the film-maker by ignoring his arrival in the car park in favour of another vintage visitor – a classic motorbike.

Robert Warner
West Woodhay, Berkshire

SIR – Gordon Hughes asks what makes a “proper pub”. One feature – as depicted in your photo of the Rovers Return – is that pub-goers drink out of glasses, not bottles.

Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire

SIR – I’m not certain what a “proper pub” is, but I once asked a successful landlord the secret to running a good business. “Get one surrounded by chimney pots, find good staff and pay them well,” was his reply.

Sqn Ldr GA Walsh RAF (retd)
South Rauceby, Lincolnshire

SIR – Regardless of the details of the Miller affair, the greatest fault displayed by David Cameron was his failure to acknowledge that in politics, as in business, “perception is reality”.

The effect of the voters’ perception of a senior minister’s deliberate, inexcusable manipulation of the expenses system far outweighs any background reality.

Politicians are elected, or rejected, largely on the basis of perception and, in the run-up to key elections, Mr Cameron would be well advised to reflect on that.

Graham Hoyle
Baildon, West Yorkshire

SIR – The fallout from the Maria Miller “resignation” leaves us with a quandary. You report that our local MP, Michael Fabricant, has been sacked as a Conservative vice-chairman, for basically doing what most of his constituents would agree with – welcoming her resignation.

Do we now vote for him in the next election? This would, of course, also be supporting a party which has clearly lost touch with the grassroots of this country.

Richard and Cynthia Atwell
Kings Bromley, Staffordshire

SIR – It would be naive to think that a disillusioned public would shrug its collective shoulders and move on from the latest parliamentary outrage in relation to expenses.

As self-regulation is open to abuse, perhaps it’s time to introduce an independent inspectorate with powers of prosecution as in other government departments.

Failure to produce documents could be an offence in itself. Recovery of misused public funds would cover running costs. Desperate times need desperate measures.

Lynne M Collins
Hadleigh, Essex

SIR – Since she resigned, why is a redundancy payment given to Mrs Miller? It would not happen in industry.

This is rubbing salt into the wound for the taxpayer.

Linda Fossey
Shedfield, Hampshire

SIR – How kind of Mrs Miller to donate her severance pay to charity. We taxpayers – whom she has already done out of £40,000 – are again being treated with disdain.

Where on earth does she think this money comes from?

Ron Burton
Loughborough, Leicestershire

SIR – Why are wrongful expenses claims by MPs “mistakes” but wrongful benefit claims classed as crimes?

Roy Parks
Llanymynech, Montgomeryshire

SIR – The headline on your leading article was: “Miller’s exit will allow Tories to move on”. Into the sunset?

Ewen McGee
Bishopbriggs, Lanarkshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – It would be a mistake to view President Higgins’s thoughtful remarks in London – and similar sentiments expressed during the queen’s visit – as signalling something radically new in the “deep and enduring friendship” between Ireland and Britain.

Back in 1965 when the British government returned the remains of Roger Casement, Taoiseach Sean Lemass told TDs this would be “universally welcomed as yet another step towards the establishment of the closest and most friendly relations between the two countries”. Around the same time Britain’s foreign secretary, George Brown, said that in applying to join the Common Market, the UK would support “our friend Ireland” in its parallel application.

Within a few years Bloody Sunday and the Birmingham bombings made it impossible for Irish and British politicians to speak so warmly. The Troubles should now be seen as an aberration in modern relations between the two islands. Yet those emotionally charged decades contributed to a dubious narrative that continues. This depicted the Irish in Britain as suffering discrimination to the same degree as Commonwealth immigrants. Thus it is commonplace for successful Irish people in today’s Britain to assert that their achievements would have been “unthinkable” in earlier years. This is nonsense. By the 1960s 10 per cent of Labour MPs were of Irish origin; Irish shop stewards, according to the Connolly Association at the time, were at the forefront of Britain’s trade unions; among the best-known faces on British television were Eamonn Andrews, Val Doonican and Milo O’Shea. Postwar St Patrick’s Day parades in London and Birmingham (shamrocks and a tricolour presented to the lord mayor) were huge.

Many Irish immigrants, of course, found life tough. And yes, I too know people who claim to have seen the mythical “No Blacks No Dogs No Irish” signs, a phrase coined only in the late 1980s. In fact, you will try in vain to find references to those words in earlier Irish or British sources – mocked-up “images” on the Internet do not count!

Paul Foot’s influential 1965 book Immigration and Race in British Politics explains the reality that anti-immigrant prejudice did not affect the Irish – because they had white skin. The images this week in Windsor were real — streets lined with tricolours and union jacks. Those “most-friendly relations” aspired to by Lemass were set back by the Troubles, but are now happily restored. Yours, etc,


Hardwicke Road,

London N13

Sir, – Your correspondent Keith Nolan (Letters, April 10th) makes a very good point, albeit for the wrong reasons. A debate on re entering the Commonwealth should take place based on the commercial realities of today’s business environment and the opportunities for growth that might ensue. I am sure such a debate would be energetic and at times apoplectic particularly when Mr Nolan’ s fellow travellers enter the fray.

Nevertheless the new and more mature Ireland could countenance such a discussion and a possible positive outcome at a future date and on our own terms. His reference to wearing the poppy is quite pathetic in the current climate where both governments, the queen and our own current and past presidents have comprehensively put this issue behind us. The announcement of a prospective royal presence at the 1916 commemorations further cements this position. I would submit that the world your correspondent tries to evoke has been comprehensively consigned, not to history, but to the dustbin, where it belongs. Yours, etc,


Westminster Lawns,


Dublin 18

Sir, – The State visit , as well as Brian Murphy’s article (April 10th) on President Seán T O’Kelly’s transit through southwest England in 1959, recalls a political anecdote which deserves to be true. In accepting the credentials of the British ambassador, Sir Gilbert Laithwaite, a mischievous Seán T spoke of the historical chains binding “my country to yours”. “Links, sir, links!” hissed a frantic presidential aide. From chains to links is as succinct and appropriate a manner as any to describe the remarkable transformation in British-Irish relationships. Yours, etc,



Douglas Road,


Sir, – As a former student and lifelong supporter of President Michael D Higgins I am immensely proud of the success of his imaginative visit to the UK. Perhaps the Saw Doctors should consider revising the lyrics of their song “Michael D. Rockin’ In The Dáil” to “Michael D Rockin’ in the (Albert) Hall”. Yours, etc,


Department of Sociology,

University of Limerick

Sir, – I hope I may be forgiven for placing that powerful phrase of Rudyard Kipling’s in a context he might not have intended – “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs” – in order to single out one RTÉ commentator, Myles Dungan, for recognising the need to maintain some semblance of national self-respect and dignity by invoking the memory of the executed 1916 leader John MacBride and reminding us that he had previously fought on the anti-imperialist side of the Boer War.

As the band of the British army’s Irish Guards regiment was playing at Windsor Castle, Dungan informed viewers that it had been formed shortly after the South African war, adding “in which war, of course, Irishmen fought on both sides, the Irish Brigade being led by Major John MacBride”. Togha fir! Yours, etc,


Finglas Road

Dublin 11

Sir, – If I hear another word about the new relationship between the peoples of these islands, the forging of new links between us, cherishing our shared traditions, respecting our past but building on what has been achieved going forward, not to mention the diaspora, I will slowly but surely go out of my mind. Yours, etc,



Co Louth

Sir, — Lest any confusion arise from Eamonn McCann’s latest column on Israel, his fifth in six months (“US business support for Israel serves wider agendas”, April 10th) it should be stated that Israel has always regarded the term “disputed territories” as more accurate than the tendentious “occupied territories” when referring to the historic heartland of the Jewish nation, Judea and Samaria (also known inaccurately as “the West Bank”).

The use of “disputed” conveys Israel’s acceptance that two peoples, not one, have just claims on this territory. Israel’s motive in entering the current peace talks, as with the (rejected) offers it made to the Palestinians in three previous rounds of failed peace talks since 2000, was to reach a reality of “two states for two peoples” living side by side in a lasting peace. Sadly, it seems that the refusal of one side to recognise Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people may have dealt a killer blow to the present talks.

It seems that when accounting for American support for Israel, Mr McCann cannot resist the temptation to resort to well-worn stereotypes of Jewish finance controlling US foreign policy. The terminology has been adjusted slightly, but the classic tropes are there: Governor Christie “kowtowed to Zionism”, servile Republican hopefuls “paraded their wares” for the all-powerful Zionist mogul’s inspection. Yet Mr McCann allows a glimpse of the truth in his last line when he tacitly admits the existence of spontaneous mass pro-Israel sentiment among the US public. Truly, in the venting of unhealthy obsessions, a “very useful issue for some,” to quote Mr McCann, “is Israel”. Yours, etc,


Information Officer,

Embassy of Israel,

A chara, – At his best, Patsy McGarr writes very well. The heading of his article “Survivor’s life should be feted not tarnished” (Rite & Reason, April 8th) is good, whether or not he himself is responsible for it. It deals with the recent death of Christine Buckley.

Sadly, when he chooses to make personal jibes, as he does in that article, his standards plummet. He repeatedly describes as “cuttlefish” those who consider that his writing on the abuse of children seriously lacks balance. In the current winter edition of the Irish quarterly review Studies , he has an article entitled “A Response to Critics of the Murphy Report”. There he names me as one of those who are critical of that report, as he responds to my recent book Unheard Story , on the same topic. I am clearly one of his cuttlefish. He writes: “You have been graceless since she died. You and your cuttlefish friends. Your silence since March 11th has been eloquent.”

Mr McGarry says he has been surprised at the lack of critical reaction following the death of Christine Buckley. He is the one who has now made capital of her death. She deserves more respect.

He seems to find it impossible to conceive that the story might be more complex than a simple narrative. A letter from Reg Gahan in The Irish Times on April 23rd, 1996 pointed out: “We learn from the film [ Dear Daughter ] that Christine passed her Leaving Cert exam while still at Goldenbridge Industrial School (‘orphanage’ is Mr Lentin’s misnomer) and then became a nurse. Mr Lentin … did not quote the part of my letter pointing out that the nuns got no credit for their part in this.”

Not only did the Mercy Sisters continue to support Ms Buckley after normal leaving age; she even returned to Goldenbridge for holidays. Such matters do not mean there was no cruelty, but show that the full story is more complex than the film.

Your then media correspondent, Michael Foley, wrote about the film (March 19th, 1996): “It received wide, uncritical preview coverage. Few questions were asked and little journalistic scepticism shown … Ms Buckley’s story was told in a dramatic way. Journalists usually approach such stories differently, testing allegations. In this case, that was not done. The drama, the reconstructions, the use of actors and the memories of Ms Buckley were never challenged, no alternative explored.”

Mr McGarry accuses his critics: “They’ve been picking at detail in hope of unravelling the lot, while ignoring its truth and the overwhelming evidence.” I know of no one who hopes to unravel the lot. It is not sufficient for Mr McGarry to insult others and accuse them of obfuscation. Good journalism requires that he address the full truth. Is mise,


Blackthorn Court,


A chara, – Declan Kelly (Letters, April 11th) calls for “all remarks that give offence to human beings” to be removed from the Bible.

As people seem to be driven to towering heights of indignation by pretty much anything these days, with some even being mightily offended by any reference to the divine, his work would be likely to remain incomplete until the Good Book was reduced to a set of elegant covers with a single blank page between them.

This might be hailed as ideal by a few. It would certainly be totally inoffensive to all but those Christians who consider the Bible to be the revealed word of God. It would also be totally meaningless; as would be any oaths sworn upon it. Is mise,



Co Kilkenny

Sir, – It is depressing to read Declan Kelly’s suggestion that the “offensive” words in the Bible should be removed “so that the book might adequately serve us rather than we it”.

It might be unfashionable to admit but the words of the Bible are God-breathed and contain wisdom badly needed in today’s world. It is a book that identifies the avarice, greed and sin within each of us and lights the way to a better life through the grace of a heavenly Father who sent his son to die on a cross for us. Second Corinthians Chapter 4 states “we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God” – yet these are the words Mr Kelly wants us to tinker with so that they will suit and serve the values and whims of today’s flawed society. Sounds like a great idea! Yours, etc,


Loreto Grange,


Co Wicklow

Sir, – Swearing on the Christian Bible should provide little difficulty for the vast majority of our population, since the 2011 census of Ireland revealed that 90 per cent of the population describe themselves as Christian (Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland). For those who are atheists or are of a non-Christian faith, our courts offer the alternative of making an affirmation, which is a straightforward solemn declaration to tell the truth. I assume the same solution occurs in other areas of Irish life where oaths are required to be taken. Yours, etc,



Co Louth

Sir, – I swear on my passport that I will not swear on anything other than my passport. Yours, etc,


Glendale Park,

Dublin 12

Sir, — The latest Irish Times /Ipsos MRBI poll reveals that a majority of Irish people favours parenting by a mother and a father. While this finding should not surprise us, we might still ask if this proves that such an arrangement is superior to every other form of parenting?

Walk into any “family” or “women’s” resource centre around the country and you will be hard-pressed not to find heartbreaking stories (some in public view) of children in the midst of horrendous domestic situations perpetrated by heterosexual couples (some married, some not).

Daddy and mammy to these children are not what the 67 per cent of respondents to this latest poll have in mind when they say “mother and father are extremely capable” of fully meeting a child’s needs.

Yet this form of parenting is the most prevalent and is enshrined in law with the full backing of the State. Other forms of two-person parenting – as in father and father or mother and mother do not (yet) have the same the legal or welfare protection as their heterosexual counterparts.

Therefore while it is highly predictable that the majority would uphold the “traditional” pattern of parenthood by a man and a woman it is by no means certain that these have a monopoly on how best to bring up children. — Yours, etc,




Sir, – Because mankind initiated the concept of time, and having decided that this method of naming, measuring and graduating change and repetition in nature was useful, humanity now assumes there are beginnings and endings to everything.

This concept of certain order and inevitability has instilled, in much of mankind, an inability to accept the unmeasurable and a preference for cold, fixed ideas over the visible and tangible magic of existence, like childhood, music, poetry, theatre, myth and imagination, all best experienced without a calculator or time-piece. Yours, etc,


Monalea Park,


Sir, – With regard to the irritating overuse of the phrase “in terms of” – an utterly meaningless tag employed to make even the most banal statements sound important – I have a simple request: for the sake of the English language and my sanity (or in terms of both), please, please stop. Yours, etc,


Castlegate House,


Co Dublin

Irish Independent:

It was the week that Ireland came to London – not that the great metropolis paid much heed, but it was significant all the same.

Also in this section

Letters: What we need is not ‘recovery’, but ideas for a new world

See no bubble, hear no bubble, speak no bubble

Women laid groundwork for Michael D’s visit

President Higgins played a blinder, but Queen Elizabeth won the battle for most impressive head of state. In fairness, HRH did have a head start and was born into pomp and circumstance, whereas Mr Higgins’ path to statesmanship was more colourful and circuitous, but he did well.

While we may scoff at the high hats, the class system and all that goes with the vestiges of imperial power, nobody watching the proceedings could deny that the welcome and friendliness that characterised the week was genuine.

Those who left these shores from the ’50s through to the ’70s – with their cardboard suitcases full of broken dreams and who met a cold indifference or worse, full prejudice, thanks to the IRA campaign – will appreciate the new warmth and openness.

It is all too easy to paper over the pain and bitterness in the relationship between our two islands. Mr Higgins didn’t choose to forget, he suggested we should walk in the steps of history into a newly imagined future.

It is to be hoped the normalisation and real empathy this visit revealed will form a genuine bedrock of co-operation and conciliation. We will definitely be stronger for allowing new light to enter through the old windows. There will be no kowtowing or cultural cringing; no bowing or curtsies; but the journey to where we have come to – with firm handshakes and the ability to look each other straight in the eye – has been long and difficult.

That is why this week was important and, hopefully, marks the beginning of the end.

GR Desmond, London


I was looking forward to the gala concert at the Royal Albert Hall as the finale of President Higgins’ visit to Britain. How disappointed I was.

With so many stellar musical stars of Irish heritage born and raised in that country, I expected a cavalcade of iconic names: Morrissey, the Gallagher brothers – well maybe one of them – John Lydon or even Paul McCartney. And that’s just in music.

The usual suspects were wheeled out and, excellent contributions from Imelda May and John Sheahan aside, there was little or no contribution from the Irish community in Britain, save for the London Irish Centre Choir at the finale.

In the glittering cavern that is the Royal Albert Hall, Donal Lunny and hisl pals failed to rise to the occasion . Churning out the sort of maudlin, over-earnest stuff that props up ‘Other Voices’.

Much as I like ‘The Auld Triangle’ and ‘The Parting Glass’ they were not worthy anthems to end the night but then, as usual, it all turned into a last orders affair with lots of ‘ya boy ya’s’.

A tragic, wasted opportunity.

Patrick Cooney, Beaumont, Dublin 9


President Michael D Higgins proves the old adage that ‘good things come in small packages’.

Kevin Devitte, Westport, Co Mayo

President Michael D Higgins – small in stature – but a giant of a man.

James Carew, Kilkenny and London

Our President’s highly successful state visit to Britain marks the normalising of relations between us and our near neighbours.

That was the easy bit. Normalising relations between us and our nearest neighbours – the Unionist people – may be a bit more difficult.

For more than 100 years we have threatened to subsume, subjugate or colonise Unionists into a united Ireland.

If we can summon the courage to declare that a united Ireland is off the agenda until a majority of Unionists request it, a new era of friendship between the two tribes who share this island may begin.

Dick Keane, Glenageary, Co Dublin

Let us see if we can write the last chapter of several hundred years of British rule in Ireland.

They got an almost unlimited supply of cheap Irish labour that built the railways that ultimately fuelled their Industrial Revolution, not to mention navvies for road building and farm labourers for their food supply.

Plus an unknown amount of mostly unknown soldiers that supplied a lot of cannon fodder in two world wars, because no other jobs were available.

Not forgetting those nurses and doctors who supplied the backbone for the NHS.

In exchange, we appear to have got a couple of rides in horse-drawn state coaches and chauffeured Rolls-Royce limousines for some pampered and pompous Irish politicians to a few banquets attended by the great and the good of British nobility and holders of system honours.

Lest anyone should accuse me of forgetting the amount of wages all the above earned and sent back to dear old Ireland to support the ones left behind to mismanage the place, you could balance that against the free use of landholdings and chattels that their agents had for a couple of centuries.

It sure beats killing ourselves (and them), of course, but not by much.

I hope nobody is going to claim that the darkest hour is before the dawn…

Liam Power, Malta


In this age of bewildering change, am I the only one who finds consolation in the fact that Lord Tebbit can still give his famous imitation of a semi house-trained polecat?

Donal Kennedy, London


Like many others, I was impressed with Pope Francis when he first stepped on to that balcony in Rome, with his easy manner and casual tone.

Here is a man, I naively thought, from outside the Vatican who can tackle the nest of vipers within and bring some real reform to a discredited institution that is so important to so many people.

His rhetoric promised a new era of transparency and integrity.

Last week, however, I read that Italy’s bishops have adopted a policy – with backing from the Vatican – that states that they are not obliged to inform police officers if they suspect a child has been molested by a predatory cleric.

The arrogance is staggering, coming just weeks after the UN report that condemned the Vatican for its “code of silence” around abusive priests.

How disappointing it is to realise that Pope Francis may be just another politician, kissing babies and pandering to the public with empty rhetoric.

He did, however, get one thing right when he said:

“Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner, is undermining the church’s credibility.”

Sean Smith, Navan, Co Meath

Irish Independent


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