Wendy and Susan

20April2014Wendy and Susan

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Paolo Filo Della Torre, who has died aged 80, was one of the foremost foreign correspondents in London and a noted figure on the London social scene.

He was known for an aristocratic lightness of touch, and had a reputation as a bon vivant who bubbled with good humour and enjoyed flirting, champagne, parties, fine food and high society. This encouraged some observers not take him too seriously. In reality, his charm and good nature concealed a journalist with access to the most senior figures in power in both London and Rome.

His journalistic career began in 1966, after a stint at the Italian embassy as its economics expert. Initially taken on as a correspondent of Il Sole-24 Ore (Italy’s equivalent of the Financial Times), he moved, in 1976, to La Repubblica, for which he covered every British political and economic crisis for more than 20 years; he also interviewed every Prime Minister from Harold Wilson to Tony Blair. When he posed for photographs after his interview with Mrs Thatcher, she asked him to do up two shirt buttons which had been undone during their conversation.

Filo della Torre was a fixture at receptions in the Italian ambassador’s magnificent residence at No 4 Grosvenor Square and at the Italian Institute near Hyde Park Corner. In the Italian expatriate community, his dominant position was cemented by his friendship with Prince Nicolo Pignatelli, best friend of the Fiat chief Gianni Agnelli.

He much enjoyed London society, Buckingham Palace Garden Parties, and racing at Cheltenham and Ascot – the last of which he would travel to in his battered MG sports car (with the heater always on, as he did not know how to switch it off). In 2011 he was given the Freedom of the City of London.

His London club was the Garrick, where he was a friend of Kingsley Amis and George Weidenfeld; in Rome he was a member of the Circolo Della Caccia, as well as co-founding, with Roberto Guerrini, the Italian Business Club, a venue for visiting Italian politicians to address their compatriots in London.

His triumphant social swansong was to be one of the very few journalists (and almost the only member of the foreign press) to be invited to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Westminster Abbey. This was because he was consort to the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Judith Warner, his companion for decades. He took the opportunity to observe on Italian national radio: “They asked me [to the royal wedding] because the English, unlike the Italians, know how to do things. They are gents, not like the sweaty types from southern Italy.”

Count Paolo Filo della Torra di Santa Susanna was born in Rome on November 5 1933. He was related to the Princes Pallavicini and Ruspigliosi, and the Marchesi Curtopassi and Targiani .

It is said that at the age of five he showed precocious courage by correcting Mussolini, who was visiting a friend’s house and addressing everyone with the familiar “voi” — Paolo suggested that the dictator should use the more formal “lei” (in later life he would refer to Mussolini as a “little provincial”). He was educated at the S Gabriele school in Rome; at the University of Rome he read Politics.

In 1956 he moved to the Italian embassy in London, and was appalled by the extent of the damage that the city had sustained in the war . Apart from his work for Il Sole-24 Ore and La Repubblica, he contributed to many British publications, including the Economist, The Guardian and the Financial Times. He was the author of four books, one on Eurocommunism (co-authored with Edward Mortimer and Jonathan Story); two on Thatcher’s Britain; and one on the Queen — he was a passionate admirer of the Royal family, as indeed he was of everything British.

Paolo Filo Della Torre, born November 5 1933, died March 9 2014


Hip hip hooray for Sarah Crown and Mumsnet for their new campaign to get rid of Bounty reps from our maternity wards (“He’s lovely! Just give me a few details – then we can flog you stuff for years“, Viewpoint). I’ve been campaigning on this issue for years in my own area since the birth of my baby, when I first encountered the astonishing Bounty Pack.

Stuffed full of what I assumed was nonsense, I found my child benefit form, some interesting information about local breastfeeding groups and other NHS leaflets about how to keep my baby alive.

I could hardly believe that Bounty was entrusted to deliver this vital information to parents and the fact that it came with heavy advertising from Pampers and Sudocrem seemed incongruous at best.

Did I have to clad my baby’s bum in Pampers and stinky zinc cream to claim my child benefit? Did I have to read all the endless bits of paper to make sure I wasn’t missing some instructions on how to avoid cot death?

In 2014, we want our healthcare delivered by midwives and doctors rather than underpaid Bounty reps. Let’s politely ask them to leave and let new mums get on with recovering from childbirth, learning the mysterious art of breastfeeding and having some toast and tea. Get the midwife to hand over the child benefit form. After all, far fewer of us are entitled to it these days.

Jessica Ormerod

National Health Action party candidate for the European elections May 2014

London SE6

Your article was an unfair attack by Mumsnet on our company. We are direct commercial competitors and often work with the same brands.

Almost a year ago, Mumsnet began a “Bounty Mutiny” campaign, which attempts to stop our Bounty Ladies from seeing new mums. We listened to the concerns they raised and changed the way we did business, launching an independent advisory board and introducing uniforms for Bounty Ladies to distinguish them from hospital staff and How Did We Do? feedback cards.

Without us, many of the most vulnerable new mums would miss out on the vital public health information that is no longer distributed in hard copy by the NHS.

They also wouldn’t receive the free products and money-off coupons we provide, which help new families save money at a time when demands of their family budget will be most severe.

Similarly, although available online, child benefit forms still need to be printed out and posted and, despite living in a digital age, the fact is that not every young family – and especially those that need child benefit the most – will have access to a computer at home, let alone a printer. It is parents such as these who not only need child benefit most, but who also rely on it being found in Bounty Packs.

Clare Goodrham, general manager


I was glad to see Sarah Crown drawing attention to the way in which Bounty reps prey on women on maternity wards.

Only hours after giving birth, six months ago, I was harassed repeatedly by a rude and irritable Bounty rep while still bedbound and enjoying a few quiet and emotional moments with my new baby and my husband.

On reflection, I feel angered by how inappropriate the rep was and how these people are able to take advantage of women in such a vulnerable situation: I was too tired to argue with her when she asked me yet again for my email address because Pampers needed it.

I am sure that many women fail to recognise at first that Bounty is not an arm of the NHS doling out good advice and freebies, but in fact a data marketing company that has bought its right to roam our maternity wards.

Sarah Hughes


Thomas Piketty (New Review) and Will Hutton (“Capitalism simply isn’t working and here are the reasons why“, Comment) argue capitalism isn’t working. It has long been known, as Winston Churchill put it in 1945: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings.”

In the efficient creation of wealth, capitalism works; in the efficient distribution of wealth, capitalism has not worked – which is exactly what we would have expected. However, it is not just in consideration of inequality where we must look beyond capitalism; in exercising the restraint required to limit environmental degradation, capitalism cannot work.

The application of simple economic principles shows that public goods, such as the environment or social justice, cannot be provided by the market. Such consideration highlights the need for states and businesses to adopt a triple bottom line: economic sustainability, social sustainability and ecological sustainability. Capitalism will, no doubt, play a part in this – the oversight of neoliberal discourse is in the suggestion no other part need be played.

Kevin Albertson

Manchester Metropolitan University

To lead to the conclusion that “capitalism isn’t working” for the ordinary masses by solely pointing to growing wealth inequality is naive. The ownership of private property, which allows individuals to take risks on their own accord by seeking to make a profit, has drastically led to higher material living standards for most ordinary people.

We have seen a huge growth in the number of individuals owning fridges, washing machines, dishwashers, cars, televisions, computers, mobile phones and many other goods and services.

These goods and services that capitalists have created could not have been supplied by anything other than freely participating individuals in a market economy.

James Paton



Don’t run away with that idea

So marathon running is benefiting from all the modern, hi-tech gee-whizzery, radical advances in training, nutrition, physiology, medicine, GPS, heart-rate monitors, oxygen chambers and every wonderful new aid you can imagine? Let’s look at the facts (“How to run the hi-tech way: meet the 21st-century marathon man“, News).

You mention the world best was 2:58:50 in 1896. Well, it only advanced to 2:55:18 by 1908. In 1964 (about 50 years later and about 50 years ago – so, let’s say a rough midpoint), it had advanced to 2:12:12, by the brilliant Abebe Bikila. It’s now 2:03:23. An advance of more than 43 minutes in the first half, less than nine minutes in the second. Or, to put it another way, under 7% improvement in 50 years despite all the supposed revolutions in science, technology and global mass participation. A rather pathetic advert for the “benefits of new scientific and technological approaches” that you mention, isn’t it?

Just to rub it in, more than 30 of the 50 best British men’s times were set over 25 years ago. I blame computers.

Jan Wiczkowski



Women working at the colliery

I well remember watching open-mouthed a very old film at the Astley Green colliery museum of three women unloading pitprops (lengths of tree trunk fully a foot taller than them) from wagons. One would lever them upright and the other two would “bounce” them on to the stack alongside. In the time I have taken to describe the operation two or three props would have been stacked (“Wives didn’t work in the ‘good old days’? Not true“, Comment).

David Jackson



Prose both political and poetic

Nick Cohen’s piece headed “Hard Times 2014: food banks and property booms” (Comment) is rightly hard-hitting about 21st-century poverty. Just a coda, though: food banks, certainly round here, aren’t just run by Anglicans. In Stowmarket, those contributing comprise most of the local churches, Citizens Advice, the town council, supermarkets and schools, in a real collaborative effort.

In your magazine, there was a beautifully written article by Dan Pearson on spring blossom, observed at a time of great personal stress. It reminded me of Dennis Potter, nearing death, speaking of the “blossomiest blossom” – his sense of its beauty heightened by what he knew was coming. Thank you for both pieces, though for very different reasons.

Jill Mortiboys

Stowmarket, Suffolk

Townsend’s humanity lives on

It was good to see you reprint Sue Townsend’s article “Bottles for the bus fare” from 1989.

For 20 years, I used this article as a college lecturer to counter the prejudice that everyone on benefits must be a scrounger. It never failed to quieten the most boisterous classes and always led to genuine debate that sprang, I’m sure, from the sheer humanity of the author.

Geoff Lambertsen

Prescot, Mersyside


Jane Merrick (“It’s two decades since ‘education, education, education’, but still Britain’s primary school admissions are a farce”, 17 April) made two contradictory points.

She argues that parents need to be provided with more choice, while also criticising the Government for setting up free schools in areas with a surplus of places. She can’t have it both ways. While there is a clear need to address the shortage of places, this does not by itself increase choice. It is only by creating new schools and new school places across the country that we can provide a genuine choice for parents. We are confronting both of these challenges.

We have made an additional £5bn of funding available in this parliament alone to councils to create new school places – double the amount spent by the previous government over the same period – leading to the creation of 260,000 new school places by May 2013, with many more in the pipeline.

We are also allowing good schools to expand without the restrictions and bureaucracy they faced in the past. Nearly 80 per cent of new primary places created are in good or outstanding schools and, thanks to our reforms, the number of children in failing secondary schools has already fallen by a quarter of a million since 2010.

We have opened more than 170 free schools for 80,000 pupils, and the vast majority are in areas facing a shortage of school places or are in deprived communities. They are proving hugely popular with parents – attracting almost three applications for every available place – and offer good value for money.

We are building schools at a fraction of the cost of the former government’s Building Schools for the Future programme.

Ensuring enough school places for the growing population is one of our top priorities. Most councils are on track towards creating enough places, with 212,000 new primary places created between May 2010 and May 2013. There are no easy solutions, but this Government has made great strides in driving up the number and quality  of places.

David Laws, Minister of State for Schools, London SW1

Jane Merrick aims at the wrong targets when she says parents haven’t truly been given “choice” over which schools their children can attend. If all schools were capable of educating our children to a high standard, there would be no need to have any notion, however spurious, of “choice”.

That our schools are not in a position to do this is down to the failure of successive governments which, instead of being accountable for this negligence, promote a specious concept of parental choice as a smokescreen to hide behind.

As Merrick correctly points out, no such choice exists, yet parents are led to believe it is they, rather than the Government, who have failed their children.

Michael O’Hare, Northwood, London

Church has a role  to play in state

The arguments Mary Dejevsky deploys to urge a separation between Church and State fail to convince (“If Cameron is invoking God to make his party appear less nasty, then he really hasn’t a prayer”,  17 April).

She mentions the diplomatic minefields such as a PM converting to Catholicism, but we have managed to navigate these and other instances with aplomb over hundreds of years. Then she cites the diversity of the population, but many non-Christian faith groups support the current set-up. They reason that religion in the UK is protected through an established church, with the Church of England providing a buffer for this.

And in relation to the spats between the Archbishops of Canterbury and governments, these are a sign of a healthy democracy. Faith leaders should have a voice in the public debate, just as much as other civil society leaders, though they must be sensitive to the fact that this brings no automatic entitlement to shape laws.

Zaki Cooper, Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews, London NW4

Excerpts from The Gospel According to David Cameron for Easter:

“Consider the lilies of the field. They do not labour or spin. Typical of the something-for-nothing culture we are determined to end.”

“And he welcomed the moneylenders into the Temple – and gave them all huge bonuses.”

“It is easier for Eric Pickles to go through the eye of a needle than for Starbucks, Google and Amazon to pay corporation tax.”

“And he said unto the leper: ‘Atos says you’re fit to work. We’re taking you off disability benefits.’”

“There are many mansions in my heavenly father’s house, but if you’re on benefits, in council accommodation and have a spare room, we’ll hit you with the bedroom tax.”

“Love thy neighbour as thyself – unless they’re a Bulgarian or Romanian immigrant.”

Sasha Simic, London N16

What is it that David Cameron does or refrains from doing because of his Christian faith? Without being clear about that, surely his profession of faith is meaningless? “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Mark Walford, London N12

Whatever happened  to progress?

I’ve just finished re-reading a book that was given to me by my mother on my 16th birthday. It was published in 1914 and tells a story of poverty wages, starvation, charities providing essentials, short-time contracts, zero hours, corrupt businesses that own politicians and vice-versa, and an apathetic population who mistakenly vote for their own drudgery.

They only want “plenty of work” and are encouraged to live a vicarious existence, marvelling at the antics of the rich and famous. We haven’t advanced much in 100 years have we? The book? The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell.

Martin Carty, Aldridge, Walsall

Music can thrill without being painful

Chris Maume (“It isn’t a proper rock gig if you don’t leave with your ears ringing”, 17 April) may be being deliberately provocative, but to believe that rock music has to be painfully loud is stupid.

Perhaps groups play so loudly in order to drown out the moronic shouting and whistling which seems to accompany every gig I hear on the radio.

Does Chris ever go to a classical music concert? Part of the appeal is the contrast between the whisper-quiet passages and the fortissimo of almost a hundred musicians playing flat out. They do not need to be amplified. The loud music is thrilling, but not painful.

When Maume needs hearing aids several years before he should because of exposing his ears to excessive volume, I suppose he will expect me to pay for them out of my taxes.

Seriously, we are storing up huge costs for the NHS because of this insane liking for loud live music, and the use of portable music players on public transport with their monotonous percussion noises leaking from the earphones.

I like certain kinds of rock music but I refuse to go to excessively loud gigs. And to suggest that one wears earplugs is adding one stupid idea to another.

Peter Grove, Salisbury, Wiltshire

Days of the celibate priest are numbered

Your report “Catholic bishops call for priests to be able to marry” (18 April) on the possibility of change relating to the discipline of celibacy for Roman Catholic priests is timely.

The recently reported remarks of Pope Francis, suggesting that local diocesan bishops must take responsibility for the solution of local problems, has opened the door to discussion in a new way.

For too long, the whole matter of celibacy for those ordained in the Roman Catholic communion has been a closed book. The Church, through the example of Francis, is experiencing a re-examination of its mission.

This one aspect of Church discipline (for that is all it is) is now being questioned. The answering of a call to ministry need not be associated with an altogether separate calling to the celibate life. The time has come to revoke a discipline that has become a hindrance to vocation.

Chris McDonnell , Secretary, Movement for Married Clergy UK, Little Haywood, Staffordshire

There’s nothing funny about ‘comedic’

I do not agree with Guy Keleny’s dismissal of the word “comedic” (Errors and Omissions, 12 April). If the word “comic” were used in the sentence he examined, it could be taken to mean that the sensibility is comic, in the sense of being funny, rather than relating to comedy.

Most people would probably not be confused for long by “distinctive visual and comic sensibility”. However, I think “comedic” works well and removes any ambiguity even if it is a neologism. I like “tragedic” for similar reasons and would like to start a campaign for its adoption.

Alan Knight, Helston, Cornwall


Muslim community vilified unjustly for school ‘Islamism’

WE ARE concerned, after  your article “Gove in war on Islamic takeover of state schools” (News, last week) and editorial “Keep Islamism out of the classroom”, that the Muslim community is being unfairly victimised.

Religious communities are encouraged to be more involved in local schools — including, for example, setting up faith-based academies — yet this idea is now being demonised. The perception of a “witch-hunt” is supported by David Hughes, a Christian and a trustee and governor at Birmingham’s Park View School, which was referred to in your news story, for more than 15 years.

Where there are serious allegations, they must be investigated, but smearing the entire community cannot be ethical. Baroness Warsi’s statement “Islamophobia has passed the dinner-table test” is proving all too true.
Farooq Murad, Muslim Council of Britain

Slow learners
It is disturbing that it has taken the Department for Education (DfE) so long to realise there are issues in schools serving largely Muslim areas. It is also surprising the DfE apparently failed to evaluate properly proposals to convert many of the schools to academies or to establish free schools and then to monitor them effectively.

Birmingham city council must also take responsibility for its processes in appointing and training governors and in responding to complaints.

There two key underlying policy issues. One is the clear message from Michael Gove that academies and free schools are better than schools controlled by local authorities because they give communities power to do what they want.

The second is that the state funding of religious schools needs to be addressed. It allows voluntary aided (VA) schools to promote religious practices, and arguably some of the schools now being inspected would not have some of their activities (such as not celebrating Christmas) criticised if they were Muslim VA schools, just as a VA Church of England school would not be condemned for not celebrating Eid. Radicalisation must be stopped, but this is not the same as religious conservatism.

If all state schools were secular, radicalisation would be unable to hide behind the veil of religion.
John Gaskin, York

Neutral ground
We are a multicultural society with a diverse population and a wide range of religious and secular beliefs. What people teach children at home cannot be controlled, but what is taught in state schools has to be religiously neutral.
Paul Kustow, by email

Degrees of separation
We still have not learnt from Northern Ireland, where religious division has been fed by separate schools. If parents want their children to have a religious education, let them attend Sunday school or a madrasah. Mainstream schooling should teach skills for life, and if religion is spoken of at all, it should be as a concept, not as a specific ideology. Continue on this route in Britain and in years to come Northern Ireland’s problems will be as nothing in comparison.
Alan Brook, Launceston, Cornwall

Radical autism therapy top of the class

THANK YOU for running a story about how applied behaviour analysis (ABA) can help children with autism (“Tough love”, Magazine, last week). My son has benefited tremendously from the therapy. Initially diagnosed with moderate to severe autism, he is now attending a mainstream school and is one of the top pupils in his class.

When he was three we couldn’t even take him to the playground as he had severe social phobia and would cry, scream and run the other way if he saw other children. Sadly, when you get an autism diagnosis from the NHS you are given no advice or hope and are told to “mourn” your child because autism is a lifelong disability.
Khalida Rizi, London N21

Not so ‘tough’
Congratulations on publishing a potentially life-changing article for many parents of children with autism. Interventions devised by ABA professionals are designed to teach skills but also to address challenging behaviour.

ABA is the application of the natural science of behaviour analysis, is evidence-based and uses scientific findings in an individualised manner. The outcomes are so effective that it is funded through health insurance in most states in America and is increasingly acknowledged globally as an effective intervention.

Autism education is one of hundreds of applications of the science and the emphasis is on the ability to analyse, understand and work with the motivation of such children, rather than “tough love”.
Neil Martin, European Association for Behaviour Analysis; Professor Mickey Keenan, University of Ulster; Professor Karola Dillenburger and  Lyn McKerr (parent of young adult with autism), Queen’s University, Belfast; Nichola Booth, Behaviour Analyst; Jacqueline Schenk, Erasmus University, Rotterdam; Lise Roll-Pettersson, Stockholm University; Giovambattista Presti, Kore University of Enna; Professor Paolo Moderato, IULM University, Milan

Private funding
We have had to fund this therapy privately, which has put a financial strain on our family, but the gains our son has made in a short space of time have been astounding. It is ridiculous that the NHS will not offer this to our child.
Nicola and Chris Evans, Swansea

Wasted time
Caroline Scott reports on the dysfunctional state provision for children with autism. My son languished for two crucial early years in a special school for autism where they could not teach him to speak. Within a month of starting ABA he began using functional language. The NHS should not waste resources on therapies that do not work.
June Goh, by email

Ill treatment
ABA as a therapy for severely autistic children is abuse, at least partly. While it may produce measureable “results”, it ignores the fact that autistic people have an interior life. Some of the conditioning methods in ABA are considered unethical in training dogs.

One alarming example was to “noise-barrage” some autistic children until they stop showing a negative response to noise, a therapy comparable to dressing a child with sensitive skin in a hair shirt and telling them it will only be taken off when they stop scratching. Speaking as an adult on the autism spectrum, I feel we should have the right to live for ourselves so long as it is safe.
Arwen Bird, London N4

Leaps and bouds
My son has been receiving 15 hours of ABA a week for a year and is doing amazingly well. Without it he would probably still be wandering the house, banging cupboards. Instead he has learnt his alphabet and numbers, can spell and do puzzles and is starting to talk.
Natalie McClay, Pontefract, West Yorkshire

No case for persecution of the CPS

AS A victim-support volunteer in the London courts I found the criticism of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the profile of the former deputy Speaker Nigel Evans (“Mr Fumble wins show of hands in court”, last week) beggared belief. It is thanks to the strenuous efforts of the police and the CPS that many more victims of sexual offences, including child sex abuse, have in recent years come forward to tell their stories, and many successful prosecutions have ensued. It is also not unusual for witnesses to change their testimony during a trial, a point not mentioned in much of the media coverage.

Well done to Evans on his acquittal, but the politicians now calling for the CPS to be held to account might first reflect on what should be their priority — an inquiry into Westminster’s culture of heavy drinking and promiscuity.
Crawford Chalmers, Weybridge, Surrey

Identity parade
The solution to the problems surrounding rape cases is simple: the CPS and the police should not name or identify the accused until after a conviction is achieved, but the present system of anonymity for the victim should be preserved so they continue to come forward.
Rowell Wilkinson, London E10

Off the record
Until recently I was under the impression that if asked by the police to give a statement on some matter I was compelled to do so. However, one is under no such obligation. If the men who appeared in the witness box at Evans’s trial had refused to give a statement, the police would not have been able to bring a case against him and much public money and embarrassment on the part of the CPS would have been saved.
George McCoy, Stone, Staffordshire


Syrian tragedy
The murder of a faithful priest renowned for his care and compassion for all, regardless of their creed, is symptomatic of the tragedy that is Syria (“Killing of priest was ‘rebel punishment’”, World News, last week). But far sadder still and to our great shame is the fact that the West did not listen to the vast majority of Syrians who, across the religious and tribal divides, knew that Bashar al-Assad was the only one who could prevent the nightmare of civil war. Indeed, as Father Francis Van der Lugt wrote in 2012: “Most Syrians do not support the opposition. Therefore you cannot say that this is a popular uprising.” From its outset the insurrection was yet another example of the West’s arrogant political adventurism and meddling either directly or indirectly in countries and cultures our governments simply despise.
Reverend RC Paget, Brenchley, Kent

Diesel damage report
In your article “Diesel blamed for deaths” (News, April 6) you highlighted the fact that nearly a third of UK cars are now diesel-powered, a figure dwarfed by the proportion of our diesel-engine vans (95%). I am disturbed that so many drivers run their engines while stationary: this is illegal but the law is widely ignored. Now we know diesel pollution is responsible for irreversible health damage, we must enforce the law more rigorously.
Mohammad Royapoor, Newcastle upon Tyne

Emission statement
Apparently newer, greener diesel engines used in buses and elsewhere have an additional and more insidious problem. Because they are more efficient and operate at higher pressures, the particles that they emit are smaller than those from conventional diesel units. These particles are harder if not impossible to filter out of emissions and pass more easily from the lungs to the rest of the body. The irony is that these so-called greener engines are more dangerous than the older ones.
John Bornholt, by email

Computer says no
While I appreciate that an online GP consultation, according to government thinking, would be no problem for many “silver surfers” (“See your GP any time — on Skype”, News, last week), what about the rest of the ageing population who cannot afford a computer or an iPad? Or those who find technology complicated and frustrating and, like me, have no one to offer assistance when things go wrong and are therefore forced to pay for an engineer to come out?
Molly Drinnan, Richmond, London

Age concern
What is clear is that, to be  more accountable, general practice has to shed some of  its burdens and distractions. The transfer of public health  to local authorities could be accompanied by shifting  some screening and services such as immunisation to pharmacies or other agencies. My particular interest is the frail elderly, for whom the model of diagnosis/ treatment/prevention is wanting. I feel it is remarkable that people survive the  system as often as they do.
Professor Clive Bowman, Falmouth, Cornwall

Trust me, I’m a nurse
Why do we insist on thinking care and medical advice can come only from doctors? My local practice clearly doesn’t think so, since the agenda for a recent patient open day allocated 15 minutes for a talk on what a doctor does and 30 minutes for what a nurse practitioner does.
Catherine Inwood, Wallingford, Oxfordshire

Corrections and clarifications

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to editor@sunday-times.co.uk or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (complaints@pcc.org.uk or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)


Felix Baumgartner, first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound, 45; Sebastian Faulks, author, 61; Sir John Eliot Gardiner, conductor, 71; Jessica Lange, actress, 65; Nicholas Lyndhurst, actor, 53; Ryan O’Neal, actor, 73; Leslie Phillips, actor, 90; Ken Scott, record producer, 67; Andy Serkis, actor, 50; George Takei, actor, 77


1889 birth of Adolf Hitler; 1968 Enoch Powell makes his “Rivers of Blood” speech; 1992 death of Benny Hill, comedian; 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 13 people before committing suicide at Columbine High School, Colorado; 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11


SIR – Peter Reynolds (Letters, April 18) wrote that “cannabis is slightly less addictive and harmful than coffee”. What utter nonsense.

Cannabis creates and exaggerates anxieties and psychoses, especially in the formative brains of young people. To deal with this inner turmoil the person turns to more cannabis.

The result is a slippery slide to addiction and perhaps to more physically damaging drugs such as ketamine. This is what happened to my daughter, for whom we had to provide drug rehabilitation in South Africa, because the services offered in this country essentially do not prevent the addict from having access to drug dealers. I think her life and ours would have been happier had she spent her teenage years drinking too much espresso.

My other daughter lives in Singapore, where drugs are not part of the social scene. They have the death penalty for drug-dealing in Singapore.

We in Britain need the same zero-tolerance for this corrosive part of modern society.

Dr David Cottam
Dormansland, Surrey

Ace sky-pilot

SIR – David Cameron has started to speak a little about his personal faith, but by his own admission is not as devout as William Gladstone, four times prime minister in the 19th century (It shouldn’t be a surprise that David Cameron has got religion, Fraser Nelson, Comment, April 17).

Gladstone’s rivals regarded some of his politics as sanctimonious, with one commenting: “I don’t mind it when he has the ace of clubs up his sleeve; but I wish he wouldn’t pretend that the Almighty put it there.”

That the current Government is sensibly trying to facilitate a role for faith in politics is a good thing. It should not be ignored, nor should it exert a veto over any issues; after all, we do not live in a theocracy, but a mature democracy that can accommodate religious and secular voices.

Zaki Cooper
Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews
London NW4

College closure threat

SIR – The bishops have received a report from an external review body that recommends closure of St Michael’s College Llandaff, the theological college of the Church in Wales.

They have asked for comments and have made no decision to close the college, but have appointed Dr Mark Clavier to be the acting principal when I retire on June 30.

The college has received a huge number of letters of support from past and present students, saying how much they have loved training at the college, and stressing its importance to maintaining the identity of Anglicanism in Wales.

St Michael’s College will be putting forward alternative proposals to the bishops’ meeting on June 17. It very much hopes that these are accepted by the bishops.

Canon Dr Peter Sedgwick
St Michael’s College, Llandaff

A bigger blow

SIR – For my 66th birthday cake my wife ordered online, from a well-known store’s home-delivery service, two cake candles in the shape of a “6”, with a little prong at the bottom and the wick at the top.

These were unavailable, so they substituted two in the shape of a “9”.

Malcolm Welford
Driffield, East Yorkshire

Syrian war crimes

SIR – Peter Oborne (Comment, April 17) suggested that some accounts of the Syrian government’s dreadful atrocities “have been exaggerated”. But evidence of the Assad regime’s systematic torture and starvation to death of more than 11,000 Syrian men, women and children was presented to the Security Council on Tuesday.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights declared on April 8 that human-rights violations by Syrian government forces “far outweigh” those by armed opposition groups. A separate UN commission of inquiry concluded in February that “government forces and pro-government militia have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, including massacres”.

The UN commission’s report also distinguished between kinds of opposition to Assad’s regime. It pointed out that as well as jihadist groups there are “Syrian moderate nationalists… calling for the formation of a democratic and pluralistic state”. The Free Syrian Army is the latter, and is the only force fighting the most vicious jihadists, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

As for elections, which Mr Oborne claims Assad would win if they were free and fair, there is no such thing as an independent MP in Assad’s Syria, nor can there be a “free and fair election” when two thirds of the population are refugees, starving, maimed, ill and in no condition to vote.

Rime Allaf
Presidential Adviser
National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces

Sunk ferry’s black box

SIR – Everywhere I hear people give opinions on what caused the sinking of the South Korean ferry, in a manner they would not if an airliner crashed at Heathrow. The ferry carried a voyage data recorder, a ship’s black box. Let the experts do their job.

Captain Peter J Newton
Chellaston, Derbyshire

Revanchist Rutland

SIR – Was Thursday’s earthquake in Rutland a sign of the county having achieved Geological Capability, harnessing continental drift in support of its autonomous and expansionist aims?

Charles Leigh-Dugmore
Naphill, Buckinghamshire

Like a vulture circling a dinner party

SIR – Among dinner-party disasters (Letters, April 18), I was once the hostess of a small gathering when the two women guests, who had never met before, almost immediately started a very heated stand-up argument (about knitting, strangely) which lasted all evening.

One of the men then remembered something he had forgotten to do, promised he’d be back shortly, and slunk off to his car.

He then proceeded slowly to circle the roads of the village, every so often fairly visibly passing our house and checking which cars were still there. Only when the coast was clear did he reappear to collect his wife.

Fortunately, the food was pretty awful, too.

Liz Wheeldon
Seaton, Devon

SIR – A dinner party is certainly not like having a meal with friends. The form, or strategy, is: eat before, have one glass of wine, play with the food served, drink water and keep your wits about you.

Perhaps not enjoyable, but one survives to be invited again.

James Gibson
Quorn, Leicestershire

SIR – I was greatly taken with the ingenuity displayed by Shirley Copps’s dinner guest (Letters April 17), who praised her tablecloth when nothing else came to mind.

My sister-in-law, in all other regards an admirable lady, failed miserably to learn to the play the violin as a child. Her family, having endured lengthy and discordant practice sessions, wondered what on earth the tutor might say in the end-of-term report.

The answer was a masterpiece of laconic tact: “She holds the bow well.”

This is now the standard family phrase to bring faint praise to clear disaster.

Jolyon McCarthy
West End, Kent

SIR – One of the problems with the alien Spanish bluebell is that it breeds with the poor old English bluebell, forming hybrids.

A survey by the Natural History Museum over the past eight years has shown that most bluebells in urban areas have now been affected in this way.

In the countryside, though, there are still plenty of native bluebell woods left, with the lovely deep-blue flowers, nodding in the breeze.

Now that the railway at Dawlish has been mended, I’ll be heading down to see one that I know. But I won’t tell you exactly where it is.

Frances Johnson
London SW5

SIR – During the 1997 general election, I was an agent for the Referendum Party. The Referendum Party did not win a single seat, but the Labour Party swept to power with a majority of more than 160 seats over all the other parties combined.

The number of seats that passed from the Conservatives to Labour (by fewer votes than were cast for the Referendum Party in each seat) was more than 80. The result was a three-term Labour government, with disastrous financial and social results.

Had the Referendum Party not been in the frame, Labour’s overall majority would have been just over 40, easily overturnable in two parliaments, if not one.

If the Conservative Party is still as stupid now as it was in 1997, it deserves to be out of power again for 13 years. It would be better for someone to tell David Cameron to pick up the phone and ring Nigel Farage now.

Peter Weston-Davies
Chairman, Newark Branch, Ukip
Newark, Nottinghamshire

Related Articles

SIR – A lot of people seem to be confusing David Cameron’s failure to implement the policies the Tories had in their manifesto with weakness.

It cannot be emphasised enough that they did not win the election.

All the reasons that have been given for voting for Ukip instead (Letters, April 14) stem from the Conservatives being in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who prevent them from dealing in the way that they would like to with immigration, the EU and so on.

Vivien Coombs
Hungerford, Berkshire

SIR – Ukip’s policy positions are so contradictory and philosophically incoherent that in many respects the party is closer to Labour than the Tories.

The party’s unfunded tax-cut commitments, totalling £120 billion, would alone more than double the annual deficit. While sharing Ed Miliband’s antipathy to military action against despotic foreign regimes, Ukip simultaneously proposes a 40 per cent increase in defence spending, adding still further to the national debt.

Like Labour, Ukip vociferously opposed post-office privatisation. This was completely at odds with its claim to support the free market.

Then, although Nigel Farage talks tough on border controls, when challenged on the specifics, he claims not to be against immigration.

We know that Ukip is anti-EU, anti-wind power and against green-belt development, but we are yet to be told which trading arrangement it favours if we leave the EU, or where the party proposes to build the new nuclear power stations and the hundreds of thousands of new homes that are so desperately needed.

Conservatives who are fed up with the Coalition Government should remember that Ukip is neither consistent nor conservative.

Philip Duly
Haslemere, Surrey

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

30 AM

Madam – Last week, while Frank Flannery, former CEO of the Rehab group, complained that his “basic human rights” were being infringed (Sunday Independent, April 13, 2014), 5,000 people in Ireland were at risk of homelessness; 396,000 people were unemployed, wondering if they would ever again get the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to earn a livelihood; and 16,000 Irish homeowners were in danger of losing their homes to the banks. Many more thousands would have been unable to adequately heat their homes or pay basic utility bills.

Also in this section

Harris, give the Taoiseach a break

Easter reminder

Slavery and human rights

What about the fundamental rights of these citizens?

Sadly, they do not have the money, the power, the influence or possibly even the energy to engage a legal team to represent them in matters that Frank Flannery calls “natural and constitutional justice”.

Charities are under the spotlight, and there can be little doubt that there are some excellent charities in this country. The work and research they engage in and the information they provide forms part of the fabric of our society. Without their dedicated staff, many people would be unable to live independent, active and fulfilling lives.

However, during boom times many charities created senior, highly paid positions – possibly where no real need existed.

Then, when public funding was reduced, the post-holders had watertight contracts. Their salaries had to be paid no matter what. Cuts would be found elsewhere. Sadly, the service user and staff of the charities were the losers as these inflated salaries came before the greater good of the organisation and indeed of society.

Despite the unfairness and obvious injustice of all this, charities still frequently focus on promoting a strong moral ethos. In its mission statement for example, Rehab is committed to “promoting equality” and “fighting disadvantage”.

Many other charities cite their obligation to justice, equity, compassion and service. But, these are action words – there is no point in just saying them. They have to be exercised. Unfortunately, there has been very little justice or compassion in the way many senior charity personnel have conducted their business during these times of unprecedented economic crisis.

Caroline Collins,
Ennis, Co Clare


Letters: Waters‘ thoughts truly offensive

Madam – I see John Waters says in his interview with Niamh Horan: “I’ve been put on trial over my beliefs,”(Sunday Independent, April 13, 2014) and that he is afraid to go into Dublin city centre at night. As well as alienating the gay community and the majority of people in this country who believe same-sex couples have the right to marry, he now seems intent on alienating people who suffer from depression; “I don’t believe in depression. There’s no such thing. It’s an invention. It’s bullshit, it’s a cop out.”

Mr Waters was very quick to defend himself in his claim he was recently defamed on RTE. Yet he shows scant regard for the feelings of people who suffer from depression by dismissing it in such a vulgar fashion.

I suggest he pays a visit to a psychiatric hospital or attends the depression support group Aware. Then he might gain some insight into what it’s like for people who endure such suffering and see how offensive his comments are.

Then again maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Thomas Roddy,


Losing pals over insulting views

Madam – The interview with John Waters was disgusting.

He speaks about how he was demonised over his comments on ‘Pantigate’ and that he has no friends in the media now.

Well, I can assure Mr Waters he will have fewer friends after his comments about depression.

He says there is no such thing as depression. But for those who have gone through depression, and the families who supported them, and the medical profession and counsellors who have helped, his comments were insulting.

Maureen Sneyd,
Bishopstown, Cork


Depression is a real condition

Madam – Aware disagrees with the comments about depression as reported in the Sunday Independent article (April 13, 2014). Depression is a very real condition and there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who can testify to that reality.

Depression generally impacts a person’s thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and can affect their ability to fully live and enjoy their life. It can also impact on their sense of self-worth and even cause them to question their value in the world.

We ask everyone who is involving themselves in a conversation about depression to please remember this. Personal opinions must not distract us from the thousands of individuals across the country who are facing their own difficult moments.

We remind anyone who is impacted by depression that Aware provides a range of services which can make a real difference in their life. Reaching out for help might feel too hard, but it is worth it.

Dr Claire Hayes,
Clinical Director,
Aware, Dublin 2

Writer is Irish version of Havel

Madam – Is John Waters an Irish version of former playwright, author and president Vaclav Havel? Vaclav Havel opposed the status quo of communism in the former Czechoslovakia and remained resilient while others were terrorised into silence by state and media.

Being isolated for his stance on same-sex marriage and adoption by those of his own profession, it is disturbing that every statement the journalist makes has a tendency to be blown out of proportion.

Marion Murphy,
Sallins, Co Kildare


Reality check on mental health

Madam – Last Sunday John Waters is quoted in your well-read paper as stating that there is no such thing as depression. According to the bold John it is a cop-out and bullshit.

Well, John, try telling that to the thousands who have a family member who suffers from what you say is just bullshit. Better still, try telling that to anyone who has been left to rear children after their spouse has taken their own life.

Coroners have stated that some of these people, who died by suicide, could see no way out from their depressed situation due to their serious financial position. But John Waters says there is no such thing as depression. God help us, but we are still rearing them.

Ray O’Leary,


Keep up good work, John

Madam – Please permit me to comment on John Waters.

1. Mr Waters asks: “What is the great crime in taking money off the state broadcaster?” No crime, Mr Waters. However, you did not take the money from the state broadcaster, you took it from the Irish taxpayer.

2. Mr Waters continues with a comment on his position on gay marriage and adoption: “This is about free speech. It is about the rights of people to speak about what is important without being demonised.”

Yes, you have the right, perhaps even the obligation, to express yourself publicly, Mr Waters, but so also does the listener/reader have the right to demonise your views if that is his/her perception.

3. I agree with Mr Waters that those people who shout and do not want to engage in conversations are “cowards” filled with hatred: they are dangerous to democratic principles, but they have the right to be cowards and dangerous if one truly values free speech.

Mr Waters, I do not agree with your stance on gay marriage and gay adoption but I respect you and admire you for your public utterances. Please keep up the good work.

Vincent J Lavery,
Irish Free Speech Movement,
Dalkey, Co Dublin


Pity for author quickly vanished

Madam – I am not a big fan of John Waters, regardless of his views on gay marriage. Reading his interview in the Sunday Independent (April 13, 2014), I had a brief spell of pity for him, especially since he was being verbally abused by members of the public on the street.

Then, he reminds us of his ignorance. He says: “I don’t believe in depression. There’s no such thing. It’s an invention, it’s bullshit.” I couldn’t believe it. Any pity for him disappeared. I was so angry I could almost go and find him on the street to shout abuse at him. Just one more to add to the mob.

Barry Pringle,


DJs aren’t the whipping boys

Madam – I got a huge reaction to an article I wrote for the Sunday Independent last week under the provocative heading: “It’s time to whip disc jockeys into shape.”

I understand that the headline drew many people in who might otherwise not have read the piece. Unfortunately I fear it also gave the impression that my gripe was with radio presenters. One DJ I met asked me if I had my whip with me – I think he was joking.

But just to avoid every DJ in the country being out for my blood – blood on my tracks.

Can I just clarify that it’s not DJs I have a grievance with – but their bosses, who want to turn them into robots.

Let’s hope the piece I wrote turns out to be the start of a proper debate about that. Remember, We Live On Air.

Johnny Duhan,


Slavery and human rights

Madam – I take issue with Stephen Tallon (Letters, Sunday Independent, April 13, 2014), who said Britain‘s involvement in the First World War was motivated by human rights.

According to his description of events, Britain was “defending human rights against the dictatorial regimes of Kaiser Germany, Sultanate Turkey and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire”.

How does he reconcile that with the fact that the majority of British citizens did not have the right to vote, and the fact that Glaswegian women were threatened with eviction from tenements they lived in by a greedy landlord class while their husbands, brothers and sons were away fighting in Belgium and France? There was also Britain’s maintenance of concentration camps in South Africa after the Boer War and the shameful massacre of Indian citizens at Amritsar in 1919, which was not very becoming of the human rights he proclaimed Britain was defending, as well as the part it played in the punitive settlement imposed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty which facilitated Hitler’s rise to power.

Mr Tallon also bemoans how Britain “could no longer afford a global role as all their gold was gone and they had massive debts”. Well, of course they had, they learned a hard lesson that fighting a war as an empire has an unsustainable price.

The Left has been wrong about many of the arguments of the last 100 years but should be commended for calling the war what it was – or as its figurehead Lenin aptly described the pretext of the conflict: “One slave owner, Germany, is fighting another slave owner, England, for a fairer distribution of the slaves.”

Robert Byrne,
Dublin 13


Towards a united Ireland

Madam – The State visit to the UK has shown the friendship between our two countries. This could provide a platform to discuss the merits of a united Ireland. Aside from economic benefits, Orange Day could become an all-island celebration to mark the contributions of unionists to Irish culture and society, while the Easter Rising could be commemorated to show thankfulness that never again will a minority be divided from the majority.

Patrick Bamming,
Dublin 1

Sunday Independent


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