Better

27 November 2014 Better
I still have arthritis in my left  toe I am stricken with gout. But I manage to get to do the housework.
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down rabbit   for tea and her tummy  pain is still there.

Obituary:

Frankie Fraser – obituary
Frankie Fraser was a south London gangster who knew no language but violence and spent half his life behind bars

Frankie Fraser at Repton Boxing Club in 2005 Photo: REX FEATURES
7:40PM GMT 26 Nov 2014
Comments
Frankie Fraser, who has died aged 90, was a notorious torturer and hitman for the Richardson gang of south London criminals in the 1960s; he spent 42 years behind bars before achieving a certain cult status in later life as an author, after-dinner speaker, television pundit and tour guide.
His enduring nickname “Mad Frank” derived from his violent temperament which caused him to attempt to hang the governor of Wandsworth prison (and the governor’s dog) from a tree, and to be certified insane on three separate occasions.
At least two home secretaries considered Fraser the most dangerous man in Britain, an image which, in old age, he only half-heartedly sought to dispel. Although he was never convicted of murder, police reportedly held him responsible for 40 killings, but the bluster and bravado of a media-savvy gangland relic almost certainly inflated this tally, the actual scale of which remains unfathomable.
Physically slight at only 5ft 4in, and invariably wearing a smile and – in retirement – a sharp Savile Row suit, Frankie Fraser was nevertheless a ferocious and brutal hatchet man. His gangster “boss” Charles Richardson remembered him as “one of the most polite, mild-mannered men I’ve met but he has a bad temper on him sometimes”. Tony Lambrianou, a one-time henchman of the rival Kray brothers, was also a fan. Fraser, he recalled, “was more than capable of doing what he threatened”.
What Fraser invariably threatened was violence. Indeed, his criminality was closely bound up with what one criminologist described as an overt – almost Samurai – vindication of violent action in pursuit of inverted honour. He shot, slashed, stabbed and axed. An early nickname –“Razor Fraser” – reflected his penchant for “shivving” his enemies’ faces with a cut-throat blade.
An unregenerate villain of the deepest dye, Fraser satisfied the public appetite for vicarious thrill-seeking with a series of self-exculpatory memoirs in the 1990s that launched him on a twilight career as a celebrity criminal. But his greatest moment of national notoriety came a quarter of a century earlier, during what the media billed as the Torture Trial (in fact a series of trials) in 1967 that became one of the longest in British criminal history.
The two Richardson brothers were convicted, and the elder, Charles, sentenced to 25 years. Fraser, tried separately, was jailed for 10.
Charles Richardson was a criminal businessman who reputedly specialised in various tortures administered at secret “courts” at which he presided, sometimes robed like a judge, a knife or a gun to hand. Those who had incurred Richardson’s displeasure were wired up to a sinister black box with a wind-up handle that administered severe electric shocks to the genitals. Then they were turned over to Fraser.
So it was in January 1965, when a club owner called Benny Coulston was hauled before Richardson for swindling him out of £600 over a consignment of cigarettes. The Old Bailey jury heard, in grisly detail that still resonates 50 years on, how Frankie Fraser tried to pull Coulston’s teeth out one by one with a pair of pliers.
Shortly afterwards, Fraser kidnapped Eric Mason, a Kray gang member, outside the Astor Club in Berkeley Square, with even direr consequences. When Mason demurred, Fraser buried a hatchet in his skull, pinning his hand to his head. Mason was found, barely alive, wearing only his underpants and wrapped in a blanket, on the steps of the London Hospital in Whitechapel. “Eric wasn’t a bad fellow,” Fraser later explained, “but that particular night he was bang out of order.”
Fraser spent practically half his life behind bars. He was moved from prison to prison more than 100 times because he was virtually impossible to control. In 1945, when he was 21, he assaulted the governor at Shrewsbury prison with an ebony ruler snatched from the governor’s desk, for which he received 18 strokes of the “cat”.
On the morning of Derek Bentley’s execution at Wandsworth in 1953, he spat at the executioner Albert Pierrepoint and tried to attack him. Fraser spent a lot of time in solitary confinement, tormented by prison officers who would spit in his food. Because of Fraser’s behaviour in jail over the years, he forfeited almost every day of his remission.
He saw himself as an innovator, claiming to have invented the “Friday gang”, robbing wages clerks carrying money from banks; he would use a starting handle to beat his victims and to deter any watching “have-a-go heroes” in the street. He also claimed to have been the first bandit to wear a stocking mask. He was so attired when, in 1951, he attacked the governor of Wandsworth prison, William Lawton, as he walked his pet terrier on Wandsworth Common.
Fraser considered that Lawton had meted out cruel and vindictive punishment to him at Pentonville in 1948, and to avenge himself Fraser assumed the role of hangman. “I just waited, caught up with him, knocked him about and strung him up with his dog,” Fraser remembered. “What saved him I think was the branch; it was supple and it bent.” Although Lawton survived, the dog died.
Francis Davidson Fraser was born on December 13 1923 in Cornwall Road, a slum area of south London on the site of what is now the Royal Festival Hall. The youngest of five children, he grew up in poverty in the Elephant and Castle and Borough, areas teeming with moneylenders, prostitutes and backstreet abortionists. There was American Indian blood in him; his grandfather had emigrated to Canada in the late 19th century and married a full-blooded American Indian woman.
His parents were honest and hard-working, but Frankie and his big sister Eva, to whom he was closest, soon turned to crime. When he was 10, the pair stole a cigarette machine from a local pub, hauled it to some waste ground and jemmied it open. As a young woman, Eva became an accomplished hoister (shoplifter).
Young Frankie attended local schools, captained the football team, and acted as bookie’s runner to one of the teachers. As a reward, he was shown his examination answers, “and that’s how I come top”, he later boasted.
Fraser was just 13 when he was sent to an approved school for stealing 40 cigarettes. While still a teenager, in the spring of 1943, he took part in a daring raid to free an Army deserter from a squad sent to collect him from Wandsworth Prison. Two people were left dead.
He built a reputation as an enforcer and strongman for various gang leaders, including Billy Hill, self-styled “King of Britain’s Underworld” in the 1940s and 1950s and, in the 1960s, the Richardson brothers. At the same time Fraser was concerned to protect his West End “business interests”, chiefly the installation and operation (on an exclusive basis) in the clubs of Soho of one-armed bandits, or fruit machines, then growing in popularity. Fraser’s partner in this endeavour was Bobby Warren, an uncle of the boxing promoter Frank Warren.
Fraser owed his success in the fruit machine business to Billy Hill, whose patronage Fraser courted when he attacked and almost killed Hill’s gangland rival Jack “Spot” Comer. But Hill was already an admirer: a picture taken at a party to launch Hill’s ghosted autobiography in 1955 shows Fraser draped artistically over a piano.

Jack ‘Spot’ Comer showing the scar on his face left by Frankie Fraser and Alf Warren (GETTY)
By 1956, Fraser had racked up 15 convictions and had twice been certified insane. Despite this, or possibly because of it, newspapers of the day were tipping him as Spot’s natural successor. With Warren at his heels, Fraser ambushed Spot in a Paddington street, knocking him to the ground with a shillelagh. Both Fraser and Warren received seven-year sentences. “It sounds like the worst days of Prohibition in Chicago rather than London in 1956,” complained Mr Justice Donovan, but words were wasted on Fraser. “Nothing ever got to Frankie,” wrote Charlie Richardson. “He was a rock.”
On his release, Fraser joined Richardson’s brother Eddie in a company called Atlantic Machines, installing fruit machines at some of Soho’s most profitable sites, with Sir Noel Dryden recruited as the respectable frontman. A machine costing £400 could quickly recoup its cost if well-sited, and Fraser’s company offered club owners 40 per cent of the take rather than the standard 35 per cent as an inducement to install their machines. Fraser had no problem dealing with rival operators whose business was dented as a result.
In August 1963, invited to take part in the Great Train Robbery, Fraser pulled out because he was on the run from the police.
On the night of March 7 1966 Fraser and Eddie Richardson were badly hurt in a brawl at Mr Smith’s club in Catford, the incident that broke the Richardson family’s grip on south London. Fraser was seen kicking Richard Hart, a Kray associate, as he lay on the pavement outside. When the police arrived, they found Hart lying under a lilac tree in a nearby garden. He had been shot in the face.
Hart’s killing was avenged within 24 hours when Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell, the Richardsons’ chief lieutenant, at the Blind Beggar pub deep in Kray territory on the Mile End Road, using a 9mm Mauser semi-automatic pistol at point-blank range.
Frankie Fraser was tried at the Old Bailey for Hart’s murder, while six others, including Eddie Richardson, faced lesser charges. The judge, Mr Justice Griffith-Jones, complained of attempts to nobble one of the jurors, but in the case of Fraser, who was tried separately, he directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty. There was no evidence that Fraser had fired the fatal shots, and although he claimed to have been “fitted up” for the killing, he was convicted of affray and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. He was still serving his sentence for the Catford affray when he was handed a further 10 years for his part in the Richardson torture case.
In 1969 Fraser led the Parkhurst prison riot on the Isle of Wight and found himself back in court charged with incitement to murder. Although he was acquitted, a further five years were added to his sentence. Fraser was defended by a young solicitor called James Morton, who later became an author and wrote a history of London’s gangland in 1992.

Fraser in 1997 with his then girlfriend Marilyn Wisbey, daughter Of Great Train Robber Tom Wisbey (REX FEATURES)
The book upset some of those mentioned in it, and Morton was dismayed to arrive home one evening to find a message from Fraser on his answering machine, demanding to speak to him urgently. Morton was relieved that, rather than remonstrating, Fraser wanted him to write his life story. Mad Frank: Memoirs of a Life of Crime appeared in 1994, with two further volumes following in 1998 and 2001.
These recollections, while often disordered and jumbled, nevertheless shed light on Fraser’s shameless and unrepentant defiance of the liberal consensus. He appeared on pop records and in television documentaries, toured his one-man show of criminal reminiscences (flexing a pair of gilded pliers), and found himself invited into bookshops to sign copies of his memoirs. He regularly led conducted tours of East End crime scenes, invariably ending up in the Blind Beggar pub where Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell dead.
Fraser treated his various brushes with death as an occupational hazard: his thigh bone was shattered by a bullet fired during the melee in Catford, and part of his mouth was shot away in an incident in May 1991 when someone botched an attempt to assassinate him outside a nightclub in Farringdon. Questioned by police, Fraser reportedly gave his name as Tutankhamen (gangland slang for “shtum”) and asked “What incident?”

Fraser in 2009 (REX)
In the summer of 2013 it emerged that, at the age of 89, Fraser had been served with an Antisocial Behaviour Order (Asbo) after another “incident”, this time at his care home in Peckham, south London.
He claimed to have no regrets about his criminal life, apart from being caught. “Because of the type of person I am,” he wrote, “in the life I led, you learn to shrug off adversity better than people who’ve worked hard all their lives.”
Frankie Fraser’s wife Doreen, with whom he had four sons, died in 1999. For a time he was engaged to Marilyn Wisbey, daughter of the Great Train Robber Tommy Wisbey, with whom he briefly ran a massage parlour in Islington, in which Fraser made the tea.
Frankie Fraser, born December 13 1923, died November 26 2014

Guardian:

Theresa May speaks at the Royal United Services Institute in London on 24 November 2014, when she announced a new counter-terrorism bill to provide security services further powers to deal with threats to national security. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA
You are wrong to say that plans to block Britons from returning to the UK raise no issue of principle (Editorial, 25 November). What could be more fundamental to British citizenship than the right to be in the UK? The state has the power to arrest, charge and imprison British people for crimes. Passports can be withheld. But the right to come home – even if only to face justice – is sacred. Exile is the shameful tool of our colonialist past. Parliament has no power to enact it without the express, deliberate, consent of the British people.
Simon Cox
Migration lawyer, Open Society Justice Initiative
• David Cameron and Malcolm Rifkind lazily scapegoat Facebook over the activities of Lee Rigby’s killers (Report, 26 November). Probably less well known is the unbroadcast footage of the men at numerous peaceful anti-war protests. Given the media has spent a decade and a half denying a voice to protesters and even the basic existence of these events, and a generation of elected political representatives has refused to recognise the strength of anti-war feeling, perhaps we should not be surprised if a minority of people have turned to violence?
Instead of learning from this, Britain’s political elite thinks that yet more repression is the answer. Muslim reprisals were predictable from the entire history of British colonialism. Even the head of MI5 warned of inevitable retaliations, but now establishment politicians are blaming internet companies? And they wonder why voters turn their back on them.
Gavin Lewis
Manchester
• When Jordan Blackshaw, a young man with no previous record, posted a message on Facebook facetiously proposing a riot in the sleepy market town of Northwich, the authorities were on to it in an instant and he was jailed for four years (Report, 17 August 2011). When Michael Adebowale, an al-Muhajiroun activist and former drug dealer who heard the voices of spirits in prison, posted his intention to kill someone on Facebook, nothing happened.
Could it be that the threat to the lives of pedestrians and commuters in this country is of less consequence to the authorities than even the possibility of a threat to the political system and private property?
Peter McKenna
Liverpool
• The government’s plans “to order universities to ban extremist speakers from their campuses” (Terror bill requires universities to ban extremist speakers, 25 November) face the obvious problem that there is no consensus on what constitutes “extremism”. Or am I the only person left who still considers Thatcherism an “extreme” position?
Trevor Curnow
Professor of philosophy, University of Cumbria
• If a lecturer, in say international relations or Middle Eastern politics or conflict studies has the temerity to suggest that American, British or Israeli foreign policy may be the cause of terrorism and extremism, is this inciting terrorism or extremism? If they point to the role of our ally Saudi Arabia in inciting extremism or terrorism, should they be dismissed? Should their reading lists be purged of concepts such as imperialism or blowback? We are on a slippery slope that leads where Brecht forecast … Then they came for me.
Clive Tempest
Westbury on Severn, Gloucestershire
• The way to counter radicalisation in colleges et al is to engage them in dialogue and win the argument/debate, not to push them underground where they will become more attractive to students. Failing to have a reasoned answer to extremism is admitting defeat.
David Wheatley
Margate, Kent
• University students are intelligent enough to listen to radical speakers and make up their own minds about what is being said. Would that our politicians were intelligent enough to see that limiting any kind of free speech is a limitation of all.
Malcolm Brown
Kingston, Surrey
• With the proposed counter-terrorism and security bill in the news it is surprising that the most effective and obvious way of curbing terrorism is rarely mentioned. That, of course, is to stop killing Muslims. The military historian and former US army colonel Andrew Bacevich informs us that our American allies have bombed or invaded 14 Muslim countries since 1980-81.
We have participated in making war with Iraq and laying waste the state, killing many of the inhabitants. We have participated in the killing of tens of thousands of Afghans, whose land we have now invaded five times since 1838. We cannot stop terrorism by killing Muslims.
Jim McCluskey
Twickenham, Middlesex

‘We are repeatedly informed that the UK is one of the richest nations on earth,’ writes David Pugh. But the figures are misleading. Photograph: Alamy
Many contributors bemoan UK’s inability to distribute wealth fairly and provide world-class public services (Owen Jones, 24 November). We are repeatedly informed that the UK is one of the richest nations on earth. But when wealth statistics are used, they almost always refer the UK’s ranking of sixth in GDP tables, while omitting to define it correctly as GDP (nominal). While this is correct, UK is ranked sixth (2013 figures), it is also misleading, implying that we are richer than we really are. To put the UK’s relative wealth in a better perspective, you should consider GDP (PPP) – purchasing power parity – and more pertinently, GDP (PPP and nominal) per capita.
For GDP (PPP), UK is ranked 10th (World Bank and IMF figures 2013). For GDP (PPP) per capita, UK is ranked 28th (IMF) and 26th (World Bank), with a figure of approximately $36,200 per person. For GDP (nominal) per capita, UK is ranked 23rd (IMF) and 26th (World Bank), with a figure of approximately $39,300 per person. It is GDP (PPP and nominal) per capita, that represent the monetised productive output per head of the nation, and which largely generates the wealth to distribute and spend on our private and public services. Ignoring the tiny tax havens and oil states that lie above UK, we are still behind Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Singapore, US, Canada, Netherlands, Finland, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Iceland, Germany, France and New Zealand. It is this relatively poor productivity and productive output in UK that leaves us struggling to match world-class standards of affluence, fairness, health, education, social services etc), most of those countries listed above have fairer distributions, higher overall living standards and better public services. The UK economy, and it’s workforce, needs to increase productivity if it is to generate the wealth necessary to compete with the countries that rank above us in GDP per capita, and hence provide the greater equality and better services most of them provide.
David Pugh
Bristol
• Owen Jones’s generous views about bankers would not have been shared by JM Keynes, who said after the Wall Street crash of 1929 that he was rather in favour of the huge sums of money paid to financial people. He’d noticed that many of these individuals were by nature domineering, if not downright psychopathic, so by paying them big money you tied them into Wall Street or the City and this stopped them drifting off into their natural habitat of organised crime.
David Redshaw
Gravesend, Kent

A Turkish woman demonstrates on International Women’s Day in 2011 in Ankara. Turkey’s prime minister Recep Erdogan has said Islam defines the role of women in motherhood only. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty
Your article (Inside Islamic State’s oil empire: how captured oilfields fuel Isis insurgency, 19 November, theguardian.com) puts forward claims about Turkey that are mutually exclusive with the facts about the fight of Turkish security forces against smuggler groups that are in the Turkish headlines almost daily. In response to the advance of Daesh [Islamic State] towards towns along our Syrian border, additional army units were deployed to combat illegal border crossings as well as armed Syrian or Iraqi smuggler groups. Thanks to the efforts of the Turkish forces, 78m litres of oil was captured in 2013 before it could be smuggled. The figure is 62m litres for the first eight months of 2014. Members of the Turkish security forces lost their lives during the fight against smuggling.
Turkey has been vocal on establishing a comprehensive strategy against clearing the Daesh threat. Turkey and the UK have an outstanding level of cooperation against terrorism and we call on the international community to get together and start implementing this strategy to bring peace to the war-torn region.
Abdurrahman Bilgiç
Turkish ambassador in London
• The Turkish prime minister, Recep Erdoğan, is wrong to claim that the feminist movement rejects motherhood or that Islam defines the role of women as motherhood only (Report, 25 November). Feminism is about the empowerment of women and establishing and defending equal rights in society. The early history of Islam provides examples of the central role women played in agriculture, business and trade and war. Often characterised as a devout Muslim, Mr Erdogan shows a distinct lack of knowledge of the history of Islam which, at the time of its advent, provided radical ideas regarding the rights of women in Arab society in marriage, divorce, education and inheritance – centuries before other cultures adopted these ideas. This at a time when it was not uncommon in some tribes to kill daughters at birth. The teachings of early Islam aimed to instigate a revolution that its modern interpreters, in their quest for powerful, patriarchal structures, conveniently forget.
Mr Erdoğan uses tired and discredited millennia-old arguments, wrapped in faux reverence about the place of motherhood in Islam, to undermine the hard-fought and as yet incomplete struggle for equality for women in modern societies. He may do better to implement Turkey’s constitution, which provides equal rights to men and women.
Aamir Ahmed
London

A sign with avian flu advice at the entrance to a UK farm. ‘Local vets are a trusted source of key information and this is fundamental to ensuring robust disease control,’ writes John Blackwell. Photograph: Paul Mogford/Apex
On the same day as you describe apparent manoeuvrings by the supermarkets to try to avoid the proper exposure of the extent of campylobacter infections in chickens (Tesco director may face scrutiny over lobbying about chicken report, 26 November), you also report that ministers are considering the supposed “elimination of the burden” on farms by reducing health inspections (Coalition plans reducing avian flu farm checks). Does no one in government believe in joined-up thinking, or is it totally in hock to the food industry?
Dr Richard Carter
London
• BVA understands the pressures on public spending and the need for efficiencies and appropriate lessening of the regulatory burden on business, including the agriculture sector. However, we cannot overstate the importance of any cuts or changes being carefully considered from a fully informed perspective and with an eye to long-term consequences, not simply short-term expediency. Cuts cannot come at the expense of animal welfare and health, which if compromised can have serious consequences for human health and for food production.
Defra works closely with vets and is aware of the critical role vets play in disease surveillance – Defra’s own survey highlights that local vets are a trusted source of key information to their clients and this is fundamental to ensuring robust disease control and eradication strategies. Our message to Defra is: don’t downgrade the role of vets in food safety and animal health and welfare. It is important to stress that any attempt to reduce regulation by the government should not increase risk by reducing the pivotal role that vets carry out in public health and food safety, alongside animal health and welfare.
John Blackwell BVSc MRCVS
President, British Veterinary Association

1956, San Francisco, California, USA. L to R: Bob Donlin, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Robert LaVinge, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, stand outside Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore. Photograph: Allen Ginsberg/Corbis
At last an article that deals with issues which lay “like seeds beneath the snow”, to quote Colin Ward (Bohemia isn’t lost. It has just gone underground, 25 November). A conspiracy of silence seems to grip the media when grappling with the idea that those who don’t vote are apolitical/apathetic. My constituency is the elephant in the room – political philosophies of anarchism and pacifism. For 50 years we the undersigned have been involved with peace and freedom as described above. As activists and interpreters and poets. We believe in direct democracy, nonviolent civil disobedience and campaigning. We believe in a non-nuclear, non-military neutral society. We are part of a tradition as shared by Godwin and Shelley, Thoreau and Tolstoy, Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, and Emma Goldman’s Individualism, Herbert Read and Alex Comfort’s books, and Chomsky and Bookchin’s ideas. Poets like Snyder and Rexroth, Adrian Mitchell and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (now 95 ). We may be “underground” but we are a considerable minority needed even more in our surveillance, “privatised” society. We are the seeds beneath the snow looking forward to the “withering away of all governments”.
Dennis Gould and Jeff Cloves
RiffRaffPoets 1970

In an effort to honour those men from our village in north Essex who gave their lives for their country, we have been disappointed to find that, whereas most charity giving organisations will look favourably on funding nearly anything to do with war memorials, such as renovation, adding names etc, there appears to be none willing to assist with funding for construction of a new war memorial. Our village has no memorial and dearly wishes to have one. Most villagers have contributed towards one and plans are ahead to raise even more funds. But there is a limit to the amount that can be raised from such a small population and so we cannot raise the full amount required, yet we are determined to build one. Surely there are organisations which will look favourably on us?
Lt Col (retd) Michael Estcourt
Colne Engaine War Memorial Committee

A sign at Griffin Park, Brentford. Photograph: David Levene
Why has the Guardian has got itself in such a tizzy about the Prince of Wales writing to government ministers (Report, 25 November)? Surely we should be concerned with whether the government ever took any notice of what he wrote?
David Thornton
Newcastle upon Tyne
• I feel compelled to point out the absence of certain acknowledgments in the article about the making of Illuminatus! (Make it wilder!, 19 November), starting with the lead photograph, which featured Pru Gee, mother of Daisy Eris Campbell, Ken being her father. Pru was, in fact, hoisted atop a forklift truck for this breathtakingly beautiful scene. The photograph was one of a series of production photographs taken by Alan Bell, commissioned by the National Theatre. Illuminatus! was co-written and co-directed by Ken Campbell and Chris Langham, who should be given equal credit. For the record, the production starred Neil Cunningham, in a glittering performance as Hagbard Celine.
Richard Adams
London
• When Ian Jack (Saturday, 22 November) bemoans the length of modern films, it should be remembered that when people went to the cinema in the 1950s and 60s, for their entrance fee they would see two films plus a news feature. The main film would last an average of 100 minutes, the second feature perhaps 86 minutes, and then advertisements maybe eight to 10 more. Single film screening means when a film is now made it has to be long enough to justify people spending the £10 or £12 ticket price. This time is padded out by adverts and promos, and can extend these up to 30 minutes. The problem is, that few stories can justify the length of time the market dictates, hence the extended special effects. These will get louder and of course longer.
Charles Cronin
London
• Not all football terrace chants are brutish (Is Britain’s beautiful game really so nasty?, 24 November). Last Friday at Griffin Park, Brentford’s supporters celebrated a last-minute victory against their west London rivals by adapting the tune of Knees Up Mother Brown with the joyous ode “Bees up Fulham down”.
Richard Tippett
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
• This seems to me to be tinkering with the problem of social division. Why doesn’t the Labour party stop faffing around and remove the charitable status from private schools? And while they’re about it get rid of selective schools: grammar and faith schools.
Maggie LeMare
Birmingham

Thurston Hopkins, left, with Peter Sellers in 1956. Photograph: John Chillingworth/Getty Images
Thurston Hopkins was one of the few surviving photographers from what came to be referred to as the “golden age” of reportage. Arguably it was his background in fine art and illustration that meant he saw the world as much through the sensibility of a brush as a lens. This, combined with his sensitivity towards his subjects, meant that he was destined to become a star of Picture Post.
As friends for nearly 30 years, he and I often wrote to each other – on life, the universe and everything, not just photography – and his letters were a work of art in themselves. Composed on a battered manual typewriter with various letters missing, they would be awash with handwritten additions, Tipp-Ex and notes in the margins, and were often hilarious, whether intentionally or otherwise. Thurston had many ways of bringing his gift for connecting with people into play.

Independent:

Tristram Hunt is trying to fix the wrong thing (“Head of Hunt’s old school accuses him of ‘offensive bigotry’ ”, 26 November). The needs of the 93 per cent of the children in England whose parents do not pay for their schooling are not best served by going after the 7 per cent in independent schools whose parents do.
While he is right to urge more and more partnership working, he is wrong to underplay how much good cross-sector work is already going on. In adopting this combative mode, he is in danger of repeating the mistakes of so many before him, and turning the conversation on improving education into a slanging match. The best way to encourage independent schools to share is to engage them in positive dialogue, rather than issuing threats and ultimatums.
Leo Winkley
Head Master, St Peter’s School, York

Two recent news items have coincided which raise the issue of the ongoing charitable status of private schools.
The head of an expensive establishment commented that the soaring fees being charged are being driven by the popularity of what they offer to the offspring of “oligarchs”. It is difficult to see why taxpayers are allowing charitable status to be extended to the education of ultra-rich foreign students.
Simultaneously, Ed Miliband has stated that if returned to power he will seek ways of forcing the private sector into increasing its support for state schools.
Both issues could be addressed more simply by requiring these schools to charge VAT on the fees paid for non-British students. If the headteacher is right, then this would have little effect on the demand for places.
Such a plan might also require that these enterprises, since they are in fact businesses, should forgo any VAT relief due on the costs they incur in buying goods and services.
Monies so raised could be applied to any purpose, including the improvement of the state sector of education.
Tim Brook
Bristol

The argument by the head of King’s College School in Wimbledon that an “endless queue” of rich families from outside Britain is pushing up fees is puzzling: do these rich parents refuse to send their children here unless the schools charge high fees? Pity the poor headteachers that have to accept such blackmail.
Paul Burall
Drayton, Norfolk

If the Labour Party was serious about bridging the gap between state and independent schools, they could advocate a simple policy of “state before private” in any publicly funded employment. Why should privately educated citizens take positions in the Civil Service, armed forces, judiciary and the BBC?
I cannot understand why these people wish to detach themselves from “normal” citizens until they are almost adults and then assume their right to govern us. Those who support the public services should be ruled by their peers.
I S Maclean
Darlington

Perhaps if we referred to them as “charity schools” instead of “public schools” we might get somewhere – especially if we could rely on broadcasters to then use the same disdainful tone when referring to them that they adopt when referring to other state benefits and their recipients.
Sue Holder
Aberaeron, Ceredigion

Reasonable man driving a cab
What a shame that Brian the Cabbie has to mix with “bullies and braggarts” like David Mellor. Brian sounds like a reasonable and temperate man, who seems to have conducted himself with dignity and great restraint; David Mellor sounds like a waste of space who, despite his education and power, did not.
Well done to Brian: I doubt very much whether I would have behaved nearly as well as he did under the circumstances.
Susan Bittker
Edinburgh

My uncle was better off in an institution
The proposal to close all units caring for people with learning difficulties and transfer their residents to community care is being made for the best of intentions, but a “one-size-fits-all” solution may not be the best for all people with learning difficulties (“NHS report: the ‘evils’ of institutional care must end”, 26 November).
Following a severe brain infection as an infant (this was before MRIs were invented so no one is sure whether it was meningitis or encephalitis), my uncle was left with severe and profound learning difficulties. By his teens his behaviour was violent to the point of being unmanageable, and his family was left with no option but to place him in an institution.
It is true that some of the places he lived over the years were grim, and I am sure there was neglect. But finally he ended up in an institution (long since closed) with caring staff, where all residents had their own bedrooms and sitting rooms to call home, a shop and lots of activities for them to do, and where the residents, all of whom had severe learning difficulties, could have as much independence as they were capable of, but where carers could help them with all those tasks that they were unable to do (in some cases washing and dressing), and where those with challenging behaviour were safe and protected. When my uncle passed away a few years ago, it was in an institution he called home, living with residents and carers he called friends.
Far too often we see stories in the press of elderly people, relying on home carers, being left unattended, of not receiving the care they need, and even dying because home carers don’t visit. Yet it is being proposed to add more vulnerable people into this same system, and leave them to the mercies of underfunded home carers out in the community, or relying on families for care, at a time when government cuts have decimated welfare provision and disabled services. For some (such as my uncle), community care would be utterly inappropriate, and would leave them at greater risk.
Rather than blanket closing of all institutional facilities, surely it would be better to adopt the best practices of the good homes, and strictly and ruthlessly enforce them, so that whose who cannot be cared for in the community still have a haven they can call home.
Name and address supplied

Windfarms leave a concrete legacy
I completely agree with Alistair Wood’s letter of 22 November, but I would like to add a comment regarding the term “temporary turbines”.
One existing large wind farm in mid-Wales is to be upgraded by replacing the existing turbines with much bigger turbines. The developer has said that he will construct new concrete pads for the new turbines and that while the old turbines will be removed the old concrete pads and associated roadways will not. Presumably this process could continue until the whole of Wales is covered in concrete.
When a windfarm is built in an important and beautiful area such as mid-Wales the developer should be forced to deposit a sufficient sum to “make good” once the life of the “temporary” windfarm has come to an end.
Steve Elliott
Shrewsbury

Blokish salutation to start the weekend
Please, please can the editor stop opening his Saturday letters to readers with “Morning all”? It sounds either unnecessarily blokish or as if he is parodying Dixon of Dock Green (a sort of early soap opera only remembered by your more mature readers). I cringe when I read it.
I really can’t think what it is intended to convey. Anyway, I would be very happy for him to leave out this curious salutation.
Robert Hobbs
Richmond, Surrey

No jihad for Quakers
John Phillips’ statement that there is no need to rebut the charge of “malevolence” against Quakers (letter, 26 November) is no doubt true, for the very good reason that Quakers refuse military service.
However, his implied comparison of Quakers with Muslims must not go unchallenged: he is comparing a sect within Christianity with the whole of Islam, itself divided into various sects. This is not a just comparison.
John Dakin
Toddington, Bedfordshire

Museums for the workers
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (24 November) writes: “Only two British museums [both in Manchester] are dedicated to working-class stories.” Perhaps the next time Ms Alibhai-Brown is in Scotland she may find time to visit the People’s Palace in Glasgow, which was opened in 1898.
M J Morris
Hamilton, Lanarkshire

Save children, not Blair
I am astonished and horrified to learn that Save the Children have given an award to Tony Blair. Unless they rescind it they can expect no more donations from me.
Barry Tighe
Woodford Green, Essex

Times:

Sir, Tristram Hunt’s remarks that too many private schools offer only a “charade” of minimal help for children of families unable to afford their fees (“Labour to curb private schools’ tax breaks”, Nov 25), show his ignorance of the bursary schemes and scholarships that are available. My school has always provided bursaries for day pupils and for the past 11 years has done the same for boarders from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Through two foundations, we pay the entirety of the fees for 10 per cent of pupils, which does not include the means-tested bursaries and scholarships awarded to other students. Hardly “minimal”, hardly a “charade”.
Peter Green
Head master, Rugby School

Sir, All the fees assistance, partnership and sponsorship work by UK independent schools is fantastic, but this is missing the point. The real benefit is the saving for the Department for Education which does not have to educate 7 per cent of the nation’s children. In my former London school the savings were £5.4 million a year based on capitation only, which is far less than the tax advantages of having charitable status.
Louise Simpson
São Paulo, Brazil
Sir, You quote the current head of University College School, Hampstead — Tristram Hunt’s former school — as saying it has “a diverse pupil population with £1 million per annum granted for assistance, the vast majority for 100 per cent bursaries” (Public school head attacks Labour old boy, Nov 26). Given that there are 1,200 pupils and fees are just less than £20,000 a year, it represents less than 5 per cent of the school population. Not so diverse when considered in those terms.
Michael Robinson
Onston, Cheshire

Sir, There seems to be an emerging correlation between the degree of privilege that socialist politicians enjoyed in their youth and their apparent desire to dismantle the system that so favoured them. If this legislation is enacted the damage to both private and state school pupils would be unforgivable.
Deryk I King
Solihull, W Midlands

Sir, By sending their children to private/independent schools, the most demanding, influential and articulate parents have only a passing interest in the education of the vast majority. Were their children to attend the same schools as ours, rest assured that all schools would be funded adequately and the highest standards assured for all.
Ian Ducat
Coaley, Glos

Sir, The insinuation that independent schools fail in their duty to support the maintained sector through partnerships is misinformed. Independents are increasingly working with maintained schools, sharing good practice and resources. Working at a school that joint-sponsors an academy, the mutual benefits for both of our schools is significant.
Samantha Price
Headmistress, Benenden, Kent

Sir, In the UK only 7 per cent of children go to private schools and that figure is static. In Australia it is 33 per cent and rising. Almost all are day schools. There are many of the same concerns about educational opportunities but Australians have fewer concerns about class. There, the state and federal governments give financial support to private schools; fees are therefore lower than in UK and more people can afford private education. It will not happen here: the left enjoys the posturing and what passes for the right would not dare to propose such a measure.
Bill Hutchison
Hill Head, Hants

Sir, My dictionary describes a charity as “an organisation or institution for helping those in need”. I am intrigued to know how a public school falls into this category.
Denis Steer
Morden, Surrey

Sir, Studies continue to show that state school pupils do better at university than comparable private school pupils. Might Tristram Hunt and Boris Johnson perhaps ask the state sector if they can lend a helping hand to those handicapped by a fee-paying education.
Adrian Perry
Sheffield

Sir, In the Wales v New Zealand game on Saturday the two water boys were Dan Carter, the current All Blacks fly half, and Neil Jenkins, the Wales fly half (1991-2003), who have 2,555 points and 194 caps between them. I wonder if Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard have any plans after retiring?
Phil Owen
Radyr, Cardiff

Sir, The jury which decided that police officer Darren Wilson should not stand trial for killing Michael Brown in Missouri consisted of nine white and three black men and women (News, Nov 26). Perhaps notice should have been taken of a regulation by English Quaker William Penn, governor of Pennsylvania in the 1680s, under which “all differences between planters and natives shall be ended by 12 men, that is, six planters and six natives; that so we may live friendly together and, as much as in us lies, prevent all occasions of heart burnings and mischief”.
Dr Peter van den Dungen
Peace studies, University of Bradford

Sir, What hope is there for the NHS when Jeremy Hunt shows ignorance of parts of the health service (“Health secretary takes children to A&E”, Nov 26)? Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are spent to provide GP out-of-hours services which are open whenever the GP surgery is closed — and yet he chose to attend A&E. He chose to see a junior doctor instead of an experienced GP, and he chose not to contact the 111 service set up to advise on which services are appropriate. Mr Hunt also seems to be unaware of the £150 million initiatives being funded by the prime minister’s challenge fund to support GP working seven days a week 8am-8pm. Why is he so poorly briefed?
Dr Emma Rowley-Conwy
Chairwoman, Seldoc (out of hours
GP services in Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark and Sutton)

Telegraph:
Labour Party’s threat to independent schools; sharia in Britain; the future of London’s airports; two-tree Christmas households; German-born hamsters and modern artists

More than 2,000 private schools across Britain can claim up to 80 per cent cut in their business rates because they are charities, worth around £150 million annually
7:00AM GMT 26 Nov 2014
Comments
SIR – Once again the Labour Party is threatening British independent schools, which are among the best schools in the world.
The idea of forcing independent schools to have links with state schools has not come at the request of teachers from state schools, let alone parents: it is the bright idea of Labour politicians.
The success of independent schools is not dependent on their wealth but on that glorious word “independent”. They must satisfy the parents, whereas state schools must satisfy politicians – many of whom send their own children to independent schools.
Parents should be allowed to choose any state school that has a spare place, with all admissions arranged directly between the parents and the school and not by the local authority bureaucrats. This would cost nothing and improve schools overnight.
G E Hester
Bolton, Lancashire

SIR – Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, should understand that the success of private schools stems from hard work and discipline from both staff and pupils. They have a much longer day, enabling extracurricular subjects, such as sport and drama, to be included. Time off for holidays would certainly not be accepted.
Until the state system can follow this example, it will always be at a disadvantage.
Susan Fagan
Fulmer, Buckinghamshire
SIR – Socialist thinking has always been underscored by the principle that “somewhere, somehow, someone is better off than I am and that shouldn’t be allowed”. Now Mr Hunt seeks to squeeze private schools further, which is likely to result in such an education becoming the privilege only of the super-rich.
Michael Nicholson
Dunsfold, Surrey
SIR – Mr Hunt has got it the wrong way round. He should send state school teachers into private schools to learn how to get children into top universities and help them achieve sporting success.
Lenore Nicholas
Baschurch, Shropshire
SIR – Children of intelligent and educated parents have a distinct advantage over children whose parents are neither intelligent nor educated.
Should intelligent and educated parents be taxed at a higher rate?
Kyriacos Kaye
Telford, Shropshire
SIR – Mr Hunt believes that £136 million in business rates relief minus £4 billion in savings from public sector education costs equals “something for nothing”. Perhaps he’s right – he did attend a private school, and his sums seem a bit ropey.
Crispin Edwards
Stockport, Cheshire
Sharia in Britain
SIR – As a lawyer specialising in wills, I would say that there is no question of Sharia being enshrined in English law.
The principle that a person may leave his property to anyone he chooses has survived, very nearly without qualification, into the modern era. If a Muslim wishes to will his estate according to a scheme that reflects Islamic rules of succession, he may do so as a matter of choice. A non-Muslim may make a similar will preferring his male heirs for entirely non-religious reasons.
English law respects such choices and does not inquire into their motives.
James MacDougald
London WC2
It pays to breastfeed
SIR – The health service is already in financial chaos and now the “blue sky thinkers” intend to give up to £200 each to breastfeeding mothers.
This money would be better spent improving breastfeeding help during the immediate postnatal period. Staff shortages mean this area is neglected too often.
I wonder how it will be proven that the mothers who receive this money are in fact still feeding.
Virginia Baldock
Fareham, Hampshire
Rebuild Parliament

SIR – Let’s not spend billions renovating the Palace of Westminster.
Let’s hand it over to the National Trust as a relic and spend the money on a building that incorporates debating chambers designed to promote debate, not confrontation.
Elisabeth Brown
Nottingham
The man with the best airport plans
SIR – Although the initial groups of pilots we trained to bring Concorde into passenger service with British Airways were mainly highly experienced airline captains, the man who stood out from the rest, with his technical and theoretical understanding, was a softly spoken young co-pilot named William “Jock” Lowe.
It was no surprise when he was the first to be promoted to captain and remain on Concorde. Today, he is the man who identified the idea of extending the runway at Heathrow (the Hub) as the best solution for increasing passenger capacity in the South East.
Politicians – even Boris – can therefore rest assured that Jock has analysed and considered every other possible alternative.
Brian Christley
Abergele, Conwy
SIR – Expansion at Gatwick would require major infrastructure work to handle the volume of extra passengers and employees required. Heathrow, the aviation hub of the country, is bursting at its seams. Logic and economic sense should be the guiding principles, and the Airports Commission consultation shows that an extra runway at Heathrow would bring twice the return of one at Gatwick. In business terms, Gatwick ought to be a non-starter.
A T Brookes
Charlwood, Surrey
SIR – I would always choose to fly from a local airport in the Midlands, if only Heathrow Airport Holdings released its stranglehold and allowed other airports to compete for business.
David J Hartshorn
Badby, Northamptonshire
The two-tree tradition is not just for mansions

O Tannenbaum: the Great Hall of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire echoes a German tradition (www.bridgemanart.com)
SIR – It is absurd to suggest that anyone with two Christmas trees must have a mansion.
We have had two trees since living in Germany, where it is traditional to erect a tree decorated with white lights outside one’s home on the first Advent Sunday.
Sandra Hawke
Andover, Hampshire
SIR – The festive spirit appears to melt like a snowman in hot weather just after noon on December 25, even though Boxing Day is an integral part of Christmas.
The happier and wiser person is the one who partakes in Boxing Day pastimes such as the hunts, rather than racing to the sales.
John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex
Trade with EU states
SIR – Mats Persson makes the assumption that upon withdrawal from the European Union, Britain would have to negotiate a Norwegian or Swiss-style agreement in order to trade with the EU. This is not so.
Most nations trade with each other subject to simple bilateral trade agreements under World Trade Organisation rules, which prohibit discriminatory barriers. We do not need to be the 51st state of America in order to trade with that country. We have to comply with certain regulations, but our laws are not made in Washington.
Neither do we need to invoke “Article 50” of the Lisbon Treaty, whereby our withdrawal is controlled (and sabotaged) by the EU. By simply repealing the European Communities Act 1972 we can restore the supremacy of national law over EU law and remove EU legislation from our body of law.
We can then withdraw from the EU unilaterally and unconditionally, which is legal under international law, and has many precedents.
Rodney Howlett
Darley Dale, Derbyshire
Sporting success

SIR – How wonderful to have a British driver as Formula 1 champion for the second time, in a car manufactured in England, with an engine manufactured in England. What a shame that the victory feels a little tarnished because Lewis Hamilton feels the need to live in Monaco, where he is not required to contribute to British taxes.
Lucy Fletcher
Meonstoke, Hampshire
SIR – Lewis Hamilton will probably be voted the 2014 BBC Sports Personality of the Year. But what about 75-year-old Sir Robin Knox-Johnston?
He was totally alone for three weeks, with only a yacht for company and the unforgiving winter Atlantic waiting to catch him out. He did not have millions of pounds or dozens of engineers and technicians to perfect his steed, nor a vast pit crew assisting him.
What an achievement for Sir Robin to come third in a winter solo transatlantic yacht race against competitors less than half his age.
David Webster
London W5
Cut it out
SIR – Most condiment sachets do incorporate a small “v” to assist opening (Letters, November 22), but they generally don’t work.
The Rest and Be Thankful Inn at Wheddon Cross is thoughtful enough to supply a small pair of scissors in each pot of sachets. Might this catch on?
Paul Hart
Minehead, Somerset
In the name of art
SIR – Reiner Ruthenbeck has either had his grandchildren to visit or has just been burgled. His “art” hardly represents “quiet observations of domestic events”.
John Tilsiter
Radlett, Hertfordshire
SIR – I have just spread our dining room chairs across the room on their sides. My wife does not appear to appreciate the artistic merit of this exercise.
Chris Yates
Peasedown St John, Somerset
Hamster run
SIR – The abiding memory of my stay with a German family (Letters, November 21) was Max the hamster.
Max was presented to me as a leaving present, and he travelled by train with me back to Cumbria, in a biscuit tin punctured with air holes. My decision to give him a “run around” ensured that I had the compartment entirely to myself.
Patricia Donati
London SW6

Irish Times:

Sir, – To suggest that upward-only commercial rents are not negatively impacting the Irish economy (Cantillon, November 25th) is fundamentally flawed.
Most retailers are struggling to pay Celtic Tiger rents. They must pay to stay in business. So what gives? The largest variable cost to hand – jobs. I am aware of many retailers who have moved from a full-serve model to a self-serve model to ensure the rent is paid. At what cost? Jobs.
Our previous Government made upward-only rent clauses on new leases illegal. Does this suggest this flawed system is fit for purpose and good for the economy?
Upwardonly rents are costing jobs and are detrimental to the domestic economy. To suggest otherwise is inaccurate and wrong.
This week I met the global managing director of a large retailer who cannot sustain their Irish property cost. Is what they are planning good for the Irish economy? I think not.
What is most disturbing is the fact that many small Irish retailers are stuck with these leases, which in turn are tied to personal guarantees. Don’t pay the rent and you lose your business and your home. Surely this distressing situation contributes nothing to the economy? It also underlines why there is such little appetite or even ability to pay wage increases in the domestic economy.
Both Retail Excellence Ireland and many of our members deal with this matter every day of every week.
Others are more than welcome to keep their heads buried in the sand. – Yours, etc, DAVID FITZSIMONS, Chief Executive, Retail Excellence Ireland, 38-39 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin 2
Sir, – Whatever about the rights and wrongs concerning the rendition of a rebel song by John Delaney of the FAI, it should be borne in mind that songs of a jingoistic nature, otherwise known as national anthems, are regularly performed at football stadiums throughout the world.
The national anthem of the United States speaks of “rockets red glare, bursting in air”, while the British anthem calls on God to “scatter her [the Queen’s] enemies” and our own national anthem, translated into English, tells us that “cannons roar and rifles peal”. – Yours, etc, JOHN FAGAN, Killiney, Co Dublin. Sir, – To offer some empathy and solidarity to John Delaney, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to anybody over the years who may have heard me singing Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. I, in no way, advocate the senseless shooting of men in Reno just to watch them die.
I would also like to promise that from now on I will no longer sing Maxwell’s Silver Hammer by the Beatles, I Shot the Sheriff by Bob Marley.
And to my wife: I have destroyed my Tom Jones CD as I now appreciate the dangerous influence that the singing along to Why, Why, Why Delilah might one day have on our relationship. – Yours, etc, DARREN WILLIAMS, Sandyford, Dublin 18.
Sir, – FAI chief executive John Delaney is undoubtedly a remarkable football man.
Who else could shoot themselves in the foot, score an own-goal while blatantly offside? – Yours, etc, MICHAEL CULLEN, Sandycove, Co Dublin.

Sir, – When a Dubliner moves to another county, as I did seven years ago, the Irish arts scene reveals itself as very Dublin-centric.
So I applaud Minister for Arts Heather Humphrey’s decision to give national status to Wexford Opera House. It is an artistically and economically sound decision.
Wexford is recognised internationally as Ireland’s home of opera, much as the provincial town of Bayreuth is in Germany.
Wexford Opera House is a beautiful venue. The capacity of the main hall (771) accurately reflects the niche appeal opera has in Ireland.
Let’s not kid ourselves, opera is not a beloved national art form here as it is in central Europe!
The Arts Council-commissioned Arts Audiences report shows opera had the poorest attendance figures of all the musical arts in 2013 (133,000). More than twice as many people attended folk events (286,000). Even jazz (177,000) had better figures, remarkable since most jazz venues are minuscule compared to Wexford Opera House.
I attended Wide Open Opera’s excellent production of Nixon in China at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin last May but I did note many empty seats.
If there is really a demand for a dedicated National Opera House in Dublin, surely that modest three-night run would have sold out?
So, if Dublin-based opera lovers like Christopher McQuaid (Letters, November 25th) can afford to regularly travel around Europe to follow their passion, surely it’s not too much trouble for them to travel down the road to Wexford to our new National Opera House! – Yours, etc, DR DAVE FLYNN, Clare Memory Orchestra , Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. Sir, – Wexford is the only location for the National Opera House because it is the place for the best opera in Ireland.
The idea of naming a theatre in Dublin the National Opera House because Dublin is the capital, is illogical.
Indeed, it is a shame that so many lovely theatres in Dublin are in such dangerous locations.
At the best of times, Dublin is not a pleasure to visit and if I have to travel beyond Munster to see opera, then I would choose London rather than Dublin.
Wexford has better opera than Dublin and an opera culture. All the town gets involved during the festival and it is a joy to visit for a week in Autumn without the dangers of inner-city Dublin.
The idea that Dublin must have everything is tedious for the majority of the population who live outside Dublin.
Perhaps that is the reason Dublin has all the problems first – traffic, water quality, housing and crime. – Yours, etc, SE LYDON, Wilton, Cork.

Sir, – In all but name and comprehensive legal protection, Irish Travellers already constitute an ethnic group with a distinct culture, traditions, long shared history, language and customs that make them “self-identify” as a separate group and be identified by the majority Irish population as a separate group to which they do not belong.
Travellers – uniquely in Ireland – have a dual identity being Irish and Traveller.
Travellers born abroad are still Irish Travellers – ethnicity over residency or citizenship. Being afforded ethnic status would not reduce their status as Irish.
In the UK, Irish Travellers have been recognised as an ethnic minority “distinct from non-Traveller Irish people” since 2000 and 1997 in Northern Ireland. With no ill consequences accruing.
Travellers should be accorded their right to “self identify” as a positive and progressive strategy for broader inclusion and greater legal protection.
Acknowledgement by the State could help create the right conditions for enhanced community respect, a rightful symbolic and overdue gesture which has potential to shape new relationships and enhanced engagement with the State and others.
Seán McDonagh (Letters, “Travellers and Ethnic Identity”, November 20th), writes “To declare them a distinct ethnic group risks perpetuating disadvantage.”
Recognition of Traveller ethnicity is not a panacea, however it is at the heart of how Travellers might become less unequal in Irish society.
Perpetuating disadvantage is not a threat derived from recognition, rather it is a “re-righting” of a wrong in which Travellers are frequently treated as criminals, untouchables, violent and an underclass. Where the actions of a minority of Travellers have led to stereotyping of all Travellers.
The protection of ethnic identity is well grounded in international law. The State’s anomalous position of offering no adequate legal protection in the face of international recommendations, and a desire by most Travellers as stated over 20 years, is inadequate and out of sync with human rights standards. – Yours, etc, JACINTA BRACK, Irish Traveller Movement, 4-5 Eustace Street, Dublin 2.

Sir, – Heartiest congratulations to Nóirín O’Sullivan, the new Garda Commissioner.
It is tempting to view her appointment as a ho-hum, nothing to see here, Irish non-solution to very serious problems in An Garda Síochána. Especially since, during her interim appointment, the penalty points scandal motored on apace, even as she ordered that it be halted.
However, as a veteran police officer, Ms O’Sullivan knows what reforms are needed and knows how to implement them.
Her comment that there will be a culture of transparency in the police force is hardly reassuring.
This kind of blah might have been acceptable in the days where An Garda Síochána was the personal fiefdom of the commissioner. No longer.
Many of us have read the Garda Inspectorate report. We know how and where the force is broken. We know the reforms needed to fix it. We do not want the Commissioner to tell us that under her guidance all will be well.
That worked when we were hand-wringing obsequious, peasants. No more.
We want the reforms outlined in the Garda Inspectorate report to be implemented, starting now. We want progress reports. We want gardaí who refuse to implement the instructions of the Commissioner to be fired, without a golden hand shake.
This is not rocket science. This is policing 101. And it’s long overdue. – Yours, etc, PATRICIA R MOYNIHAN, Castaheany, Co Dublin.

Sir, – As the centenary of 1916 draws closer, many events are being planned by different groups.
The Government, by not clarifying its plans for commemoration, have left groups like ours in a limbo, where we cannot even decide a date that does not clash with the national commemoration.
I am chairman of the Fingal Old IRA, an association set up in the 1940s to help members of the 5th Battalion IRA, the Fingal Brigade.
In previous years our association has been sidelined, and, given that the most successful engagement of the Rising took place in Ashbourne, the members of the Fingal Brigade deserve more recognition.
Three members of the Fingal Brigade died in Easter Week, including John Crenigan of Roganstown and Thomas Rafferty of Lusk. A call had come from the GPO for some volunteers and James Crenigan, brother of John and Peter Wilson from Swords were two of those who went into town. They were sent to the Mendicity Institute and it was there that Peter Wilson lost his life.
From these simple facts, you can see why the Fingal Old IRA commemoration committee is anxious to put in place a programme of events to honour the members of the brigade.
Taoiseach, Minister Humphreys, is it a State secret what the government plans to do? – Yours, etc,
NOEL McALLISTER,
Chairman,
Fingal Old IRA,
Swords,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – In a piece with rather spectacular and generalised claims, Chris Johns (“Social media causes grave damage and must be regulated”, November 24th) represents another clamour for “regulating” social media.
This area requires a long-term approach that most do not want to hear.
Concerning young people, this includes the upskilling of parents and school staff at a local, community and technological level. Reporting abuse, taking cues from peer role models, signposting those at risk of suicide to appropriate services and finally, a social media curriculum designed by and for young people, are steps that should be encouraged.
All of this takes time and money, which does not fit the knee-jerk narrative amongst current proponents of regulation.
Mr Johns complained that Government reports are often shelved.
Did he take the time to read last year’s report, Addressing the Growth of Social Media and tackling Cyberbullying by the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications? – Yours, etc,
BARRY MURPHY,
Lusk,
Co Dublin

Sir, – Colm O’Brien (“Cross on Carrauntoohil,” November 25th) says structures such as the cross on Carrauntoohil have no place on top of a mountain as they are out of place and a blot on the landscape. Mr O’Brien added that mountain tops are spiritual places.
As a mountain walker surely Mr O’Brien must be aware of the countless crosses and Mass Rocks that are in abundance on our mountains and glens which relate to the stories of the Penal days in Ireland when the celebration of the Catholic Mass was forbidden.
During the Penal times Catholic priests and worshipers had to find hidden areas in the Irish countryside to celebrate Mass. Many of these places were marked with Mass Rocks which was often a rock or cross taken from a church ruin and used as a place of worship. The areas where these Masses were held are still considered to be special sacred places.
As one who also spends much time walking in mountain areas, I don’t find these crosses offensive. They are part of our heritage. I am, however, often disgusted at the mountains of rubbish which litter our beautiful landscape, including our mountain tops. – Yours, etc, TOM COOPER, Templeogue, Dublin 6W. Sir, – The comments of Colm O’Brien (“Cross on Carrauntoohil,” November 25th) shows the reality of intolerance now prevalent in society.
While, I have no wish for a Catholic theocracy; what is so offensive about a structure which you can see only if your up close at it or through the viewing of binoculars? What next: a bill in the Dáil for the removal of all roadway Marian shrines; the Sacred Heart at the Parnell Monument or the Papal Crosses at Phoenix Park and Drogheda? Would Mr O’Brien welcome that? – Is mise, etc,
FR JOHN MCCALLION, CC
Coalisland,
Co Tyrone.
Sir, – For the benefit of those who cut down the Carrauntohill cross and in order to preserve the religious heritage of both Christian and pagan sites such as the isolated beehive huts, the monastic settlements and their round towers, grottos and churches, Newgrange, dolmens and standing stone circles, they should be advised that being an Irish citizen does not compel you to genuflect every time you see a hot cross bun. – Yours, etc, EUGENE TANNAM, Firhouse, Dublin 24.

Irish Independent:

I firmly condemn thugs hijacking peaceful protests with their vindictive behaviour, as that is giving the Government an even bigger stick to beat us with.
However, having said that, I do feel the controversy surrounding the public’s rejection of the mere existence of Irish Water has this Government running around like ducks in thunder. Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly’s new changes in making payments for the service is nothing short of ridiculous. It is inconceivable for them to think that people will buy into this latest attempt to quell public anger about the entire setup surrounding Irish Water. Pray tell, what’s going to be achieved in having people pay €100 above the recommended costs, so that the Department of Social Protection would reimburse them the overpaid amount?
Who came up with this solution? Did any of the highly-paid advisers calculate the extra costs involved in this implausible and thoughtless proposal? As a nation we have been known in the past to pay gold nuggets to political monkeys. This is a continuation of those infamous and disastrous methods of doing business all over again. Has nothing been learned at the very top in this country? But, then again, it’s always easy to wilfully and recklessly spend somebody else’s money. This economy has been decimated by the selfishness of financial parasites and their cronies for far too long.
So we must stop this destruction of living standards now, by standing together against this attempted underhanded operation. It’s become a necessity to defend the only remaining emblems of our living standards. Let’s not forget that politicians have already claimed €24.4 million in expenses in three years.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, isn’t it time for you and this Government to take a reality check as to whom you are working on behalf of? We’ll shortly be commemorating the sacrifice of our patriots who died for the overwhelming desire of freedom for the people of this country. Let’s be mindful that liberty and democracy are meant to stand side-by-side for the good of all people – and not just for the privileged class in society.
Mattie Greville, Killucan, Co Westmeath

Gender quotas are unfair
I agree 100pc with the views expressed by Desmond Fitzgerald on the article by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.
There is no evidence to suggest that artificially-created (through quotas) gender-balanced leadership results in better national governance in countries. This is not surprising, given that quotas are – by their nature – contrary to true equality of opportunity, which is not the same thing as equality of outcome. Also, it’s both ironic and instructive that Minister Fitzgerald is a senior member of a Government that last year got rid of a highly-talented woman who was one of its brightest stars of either sex (and one who, I understand, is opposed to gender quotas) because she showed genuine independence of mind and devotion to principle.
It seems that such qualities will not be welcome in the kind of female public representatives and office-holders that the Minister appears to have in mind when she calls for more women in public life and gender-balanced leadership.
Thankfully, though, when the next general election comes the Government and the various political parties cannot oblige electors to vote for their quota-filling candidates.
Hugh Gibney, Athboy, Co Meath

Hitting the right note
To offer some empathy and solidarity to FAI Chief Executive John Delaney, I would like to offer my apologies to anybody over the years who may have heard me singing Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. I in no way advocate the senseless shooting of men in Reno just to watch them die.
I would also like to promise that from now on I will no longer sing ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ by The Beatles or ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ by Bob Marley. To my wife: I have destroyed my Tom Jones’ records as I now appreciate the dangerous influence that the singing along to ‘Delilah’ might one day have on our relationship.
Darren Williams, Sandyford, Dublin 18

Helter skelter marriage laws
Charles Manson is allowed to get married in jail… yet there are so many men who cannot get a divorce in the real world. Strange indeed.
Robert Sullivan, Bantry, Co Cork

Our Lady of Guadalupe
The image of the Virgin Mary on a piece of 483-year-old cactus fabric in a Catholic church in Mexico City constantly baffles artists and scientists alike. Known worldwide as Our Lady of Guadalupe, its history goes back to 1531, when Mary appeared to a 50-year-old Indian named Juan Diego. The visions occurred five times, four to Juan and once to his sick uncle.
I would like to explain briefly just of the very many interesting aspects of this image. In 1979, the newest digital techniques were applied for the first time in investigating the image. After filtering and processing the digitised images of the eyes, an entire scene of about 10 people were present in both eyes. The scene appears to be Juan Diego, a bishop and other people present at the time of the apparition. Mary seems to have taken a picture of the scene with her eyes, which remained preserved forever in the moment she appeared on Juan Diego’s cloak.
The images in Mary’s eyes appeared in three different places. This three-fold reflection is caused by the curvature of the eyes’ corner. Two of the reflections were right-side up and one was upside down. This occurs only in living eyes. Also the photograph images in both eyes are not identical, but their refraction and proportions match perfectly, just as happens now in our eyes, in which there are two distinct but perfectly-matching ‘takes’ of the same scene.
The image of Mary looks like a painting, but who is painting it? The time is now ripe for a new transparent and independent scientific investigation into this image.
Declan Condren, Navan Road, Dublin

Facts about the bank guarantee
Many of the letters to your paper talk about a bank bailout that was forced upon us by the EU. This mistaken view suits many in Ireland, particularly Fianna Fail.
It was the Fianna Fail-led government in 2008 that issued the blanket bank guarantee which effectively put in place legislation that ensured most bondholder would get all their monies back. The letters from the ECB in 2010 refers to a tiny number of unsecured bond holders that would be protected during the bailout.
However, the vast majority of the bank bondholders got their money back because of the bank guarantee of 2008, which was nothing to do with the EU.
Eunan McNeill, Letterkenny, Co Donegal

Marriage made in political hell
Many recent pub conversations have included the remark that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will have to join forces in order to retain some illusion of a popular government.
I am not sure how the idea of two highly-unpopular and incompetent parties joining forces might create some extra popularity, but such is the thinking in many democracies.
The idea appears to be gaining momentum, which would at least help to explain why there has been no opposition for the last 60 years and why we are heading downhill so fast. Sadly, it will not help our predicament.
Richard Barton, Tinahely, Co Wicklow
Irish Independenthreatened

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