11 January 2015 Gout

Mary a little better though she could manage to get up for breakfast. Clear out cupboards in kitchen annex, gout strikes again!


Rosemary Lowe-McConnell, pioneer in the study of tropical fish

Rosemary Lowe-McConnell

Rosemary Lowe-McConnell, who has died aged 93, was a pioneer in the study of tropical fish, a field to which she was introduced while studying the inland waters of Kenya and Uganda during the late 1940s.

In a career spanning nearly half a century, her contribution to ichthyology was immense, illuminating the zoo-geography, taxonomy, phenology and evolution of tropical fish. Working in the African Great Lakes region and the Amazon basin in South America, her studies focused on cichlids – the large and diverse vertebrate family of freshwater fishes that include angelfish, peacock bass, jaguar guapote and the red Texas. Her particular specialism, however, was the tilapia, which is so successfully farmed that it is said to draw an annual revenue of $1 billion and is known as “aquatic chicken”.

Rosemary Helen Lowe (known to friends as Ro) was born on June 24 1921 and educated at Howell’s School, Denbigh, before studying at the University of Liverpool ; she remained with the university for postgraduate and doctorate studies.

Her fascination with Africa was inspired by her godmother, a biologist, who gave her books on natural history. Initially she wanted to be an explorer, and in later life recalled being told: “Never mind, dear, perhaps you can teach.”

From 1942 to 1945 Rosemary was a scientific officer with the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) at Windermere in Cumbria, but on applying to the Colonial Service for a position as an entomologist she was informed that they would not employ a woman. The relatively new tropical fisheries department, by contrast, had no such qualms, and in 1945 she left for Africa on an expedition for the East African Fisheries Research Organisation (EAFRO). While travelling on the train to Lake Nyasa, the first of the African lakes at which she worked, she learnt about the Japanese surrender. She was joined in 1950 by her friend and collaborator Margaret Varley (the pair later worked on projects in Brazil).

Rosemary remained in Africa for 12 years, collecting and recording fish, and working for various organisations and institutions, including the Natural History Museum. In addition to Nyasa she studied the fish at Lakes Albert, Turkana and Tanganyika, as well as in the Pagani river in Tanzania. She investigated the life cycles and feeding habits of fish, their life strategies, parenting methods and how the various species rubbed along with one another. She was briefly the acting director of EAFRO.

Fishermen on Lake Victoria (ALAMY)

In 1953 she married the geologist Richard McConnell, requiring her to leave EAFRO, which had a “marriage bar” under which married women were not allowed to hold permanent posts. She joined her husband in Botswana (where she collected fish in the rivers and ponds of the Okavango Delta) before the couple moved to British Guiana in South America, where her husband became director of the British Guiana Geological Survey. There she recorded the interaction between electric fish from America and Africa and carried out research in the Rupununi savannah – the first survey of the Guiana shelf between the West Indies and Brazil.

In 1962 she returned to Britain, settling into a research post at the British Museum, to which she had sent samples during her travels. The museum, she wrote, was “an ideal base for meeting people and a catalyst for ideas and information”.

But her work in the field did not end there. She visited the vast reservoirs of West Africa (including Lake Kariba and Lake Volta) in the late Sixties, and in 1968 was the ichthyologist on the Xavantina-Cachimbo Expedition to north-eastern Mato Grosso in Brazil, run by the Royal Geographical Society. In Brazil she filed reports on catfish and gymnotoids and marvelled at the region’s birds, plants and insects. A decade later she travelled to Gatun Lake in Panama where the species Cichla ocellaris had been introduced to the waters.

She arranged various symposia on fish studies and played an important part in establishing tilapia aquaculture. She believed that the species was a valuable food source in Third World countries and promoted its production with the fisheries administration of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management (now known as the World Fish Centre).

Red tilapia: the species is successfully farmed, and is known as ‘aquatic chicken’ (ALAMY)

In 1995, by then a freelance consultant, she helped to raise awareness of the ecological damage being inflicted on the fish stocks of Lake Victoria in East Africa. What was once a “treasure trove” of approximately 300 species of cichlid, many unique to its habitat, had in recent years suffered from disappearing stocks. At first the finger of blame was pointed at the carnivorous Nile Perch, introduced to the lake’s waters in the mid-Fifties. This, maintained Rosemary Lowe-McConnell, was only half the story; siltation was also a contributory factor. An estimated 200 species, she maintained, once present in the lake were now extinct.

Regarding the ecological future of Lake Victoria, she supported a unified policy between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, all of which border the lake, on the assessment of fish stocks (including the possibility of introducing species). “This is one of the largest experiments, albeit unwitting, that’s ever happened,” she said. “Now we must discover as much as possible about what is going on.”

She was a fellow of the Linnean Society of London (and its vice-president in 1967), the first editor of the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society and a member of the Association for Tropical Biology .

She wrote more than 60 academic papers and published several books, including Fish Communities in Tropical Fresh Waters (1975) and her memoirs, The Tilapia Trail: The Life Story of a Fish Biologist (2006), in which she noted the peculiarity of African traffic signs (such as those warning of wandering elephants).

In later life, at her home in Sussex, she enjoyed assisting young ichthyologists and fisheries scientists . In 1997 she received the Linnean Medal of Zoology – “Not bad for someone who hasn’t had a job since 1953,” she observed.

Her husband predeceased her.

Rosemary Lowe-McConnell, born June 24 1921, died December 22 2014



All children deserve to go to an excellent school.
All children deserve to go to an excellent school. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

I was struck by the juxtaposition of the state’s and the individual’s apparently contrasting perspectives on how to do our best by our children in your editorial, “We all want the best for our children: the state must help ensure we get it” (Comment). The state’s interest in creating “a more socially integrated education system [to achieve] a more cohesive, tolerant society…” was presented as conflicting with the challenge: “Who could criticise [middle-class] parents for wanting to do the best for their children?”

Well, I for one would certainly do so if “the best” for their children was conceived in essentially egocentric terms. We choose what values we wish to inculcate in our offspring. Some of those choices (those emphasising privilege, inequality, discrimination, perhaps) will conflict with the culture we each choose to continue to live in and benefit from (socially integrated, coherent, tolerant etc). Surely this leaves any of those “middle-class parents using their greater means to get what’s best for their children”, whose values fit such an egocentric conception, open to our “hectoring”, left wing or otherwise.

Mike Warwick


W Yorkshire

Your editorial comments that “there are still too many mediocre schools” and that there is a need for “opening up access to the best state schools” deserve to be challenged.  The most recent Ofsted report says that 82% of primary schools are now “good or outstanding”. The other 18% are likely to be schools where many of the children come from culturally impoverished homes and so do not score high on some of the Ofsted criteria, notwithstanding the likely commitment of their teachers. These schools do not deserve the epithet “mediocre”.

The notion that there are “best state schools” is questionable: best buildings, best test results, best teachers, best leadership? What assurance can there be that over the six years of a child’s primary career the state of “bestness” will continue.

The idea of “opening up access” to designated schools is a sop to over-ambitious parents who inevitably will elbow out others: where is the social justice in that? If every school is a good school (which is the government’s aim) then choice is unnecessary.

Attending the local school contributes to community development: children’s friends live nearby and their parents interact. If prospective parents feel the local school is “mediocre”, they should talk to members of the governing body and try to discover whether their judgment is fair and, if so, ask what the community can do to improve the situation.

Michael Bassey Emeritus professor


You refer to Tatler’s list of good schools as “money-saving tips”. The list is more important than that. Of the 21 schools in England Tatler has picked out, five are grammar schools and 16 are comprehensive ones. Of those 16 comprehensive schools, nine used to be grammar schools, two were once secondary modern schools and five have always been comprehensive.

First, the reiterated claim that only grammar schools produce high standards is obvious nonsense. Second, the still widely held belief that, at some point in the past, all but 164 grammar schools were “destroyed” by leftwing zealots is equally absurd. In fact, almost all grammar schools were transformed and often enlarged.

There are several hundred schools that are as good as the ones listed by Tatler, many of them in the north of England.

It is equally obvious that both Roman Catholic and Jewish schools would rank high on any such list and that becoming directly dependent on funding from the secretary of state as academies has had little bearing on the achievements of schools that were already among the best in the country.

Sir Peter Newsam Former chief schools adjudicator

Thornton Dale

N Yorks

Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). Photograph: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS

All of what Frances O’Grady has to say in her excellent article on our parlous economic state bears repeating (“A real recovery would mean better conditions for everyone”, Business). But for us a couple of points stand out.

First, the absurdly large expenditure going on in-work benefits and, second, Tory plans to further restrict trade union activities. In-work benefits effectively subsidise employers, boosting their notional profits by reducing their labour costs. Stripped of its modish accoutrements (learning how to bake one’s own cakes, volunteering for public service et al) “austerity” is what one gets when all other state activity has to be pared to the bone in order to finance this subsidy.

So to the second point. In the Tory vision of the future, austerity will not be coming to an end soon. As the anti-union plans show, they have in mind the low wage economy as the new normal, with all of its attendant financial risks (low paid workers still need to top up on unsecured debt) and widespread misery.

Dr William Dixon

Dr David Wilson

London Metropolitan University

London E1

Hearing aid cuts unjustifiable

Reports of NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) restricting the number of hearing aids they provide in order to save money and of other CCGs considering cuts to audiology services (“NHS accused of ‘cruel’ rationing of hearing aids”, News) prompts questions about how costs and benefits are weighed in the NHS. There is a danger that short-term savings can do long-term damage that leads to higher expenditure in other parts of the health system.

A realistic assessment of the benefits of hearing aids that takes into account the quality of life of the hearing-impaired person would mean that rationing access to them would be very difficult to justify. It is reassuring that NHS England is clear that hearing loss should be considered in terms of its impact on health and wellbeing. As CCGs review their expenditure plans, including on audiology services, they should be aware of the bigger picture.

Neil Small

Professor of health research University of Bradford

The right to be vulgar

Barbara Ellen is quite right about the reactions of some people to the decor of some celebrities (“Such bad taste to mock someone’s bad taste, darling”, Comment). If some stars want to live in a John Waters film-set, that’s their choice: rather glad I’ll never be asked round, though.

Steve Hayes



Migrants’ boost to Germany

Kate Connolly’s report on the Pegida movement in the German city of Dresden portrays the xenophobic, nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiments of its supporters well (“Dresden crowds tell a chilling tale of Europe’s fear of migrants”, News). However, her assertion that Germany’s economy “is straining to deal with a record intake of more than 200,000 asylum seekers in 2014” is simply wrong.

The German economy greatly profits from immigration. Connolly also claims that the link between Pegida and an arson attack on a home for asylum seekers and a graffiti attack on a mosque is “so far unfounded”. This might be true in a strict “legal” sense. However, there is an obvious political link between far-right groups, neo-Nazi organisations and xenophobic, anti-immigrant organisations such as Pegida.

Peter Skrandies

London N22

Putin’s not such a bad guy

In an otherwise perceptive leader on a perilous year ahead for Europe (“A year of living dangerously looms for Europe”, Comment), it was surprising to find your newspaper still harping on about the danger of Russia in the manner of a 19th-century thunderer at the time of the Crimean War. Russia poses as about as big a threat to the rest of Europe as Sheffield United does to Manchester City.

It is a recovering country driven into a self-defensive position by Nato’s expansion westwards and America’s obsession with keeping the rest of Europe under its military control and sway. Putin is not a pacifist saint, but nor are Obama or Cameron, who have much more blood than Russia on their hands from military interventions, and who bear some responsibility, through destabilising regime-change policies, for the plight of Mediterranean refugees depicted on your front page.

Richard Woolley


N Yorkshire

Don’t scoff at what I scoffed

Barbara Ellen, as someone who has just booked a two-week stay in Portugal for a juice cleanse, may I explain the reason why I didn’t do this in September (“With my trusty Curly Wurly, I defy fitness bores”, Comment)?

1. Consumption of approx 20 mince pies over Christmas.

2. Consumption of approx 40 chocolate reindeers, snowmen and Father Christmases over Christmas.

3. Consumption of approx 20 chipolatas, 3 plates of left-over goose and sundry stuffing.

4. Christmas pud and cream x 6.

I have not been a bore about my cleansing and fitness trip, as it will only highlight my gluttony!

Carol-Anne Turner

London NW3




Nuclear energy is neither renewable nor zero-emissions and it is extraordinary that a serious academic can make this claim (“Nuclear power is greenest, say top scientists”, 4 January). Recent research published by Stanford University estimates nuclear’s greenhouse gas emissions to be up to 25 times higher per unit than wind power.

The actual figure is unknowable since the emissions created by the mining and milling of uranium (the largest single factor in nuclear’s greenhouse gas impact) is dependent on the number of nuclear plants globally, and the corresponding level of demand for uranium. The higher the demand, the greater the emissions as miners exploit poorer quality ores requiring vastly greater processing. To talk of a “golf-ball-sized” lump of uranium is absurd; it is to ignore the tens or hundreds of tons of rock that are dug up and pulverised to extract a few grams.

The eminent biologists who have fallen for the nuclear industry’s PR rebrand as a “green” solution to looming climate catastrophe are doubtless well-motivated but they have been sold a pup. Nuclear is not the answer to climate change, only huge reductions in energy consumption and massive investment in renewables can do this.

John Hare

Norwich Green Party

Rupert Read

Green Party parliamentary candidate for Cambridge

Why not invest a tiny fraction of the money spent on research into “new” nuclear and techniques for its waste disposal, in less glamorous technology to reduce the 70 per cent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions not produced by electricity which all the nuclear power in the world will scarcely touch? How about universal free household insulation for example, or proper integrated public transport? Both much cheaper, more effective and with a greater positive impact on people’s lives.

Taking things further, how about increased investment in large-scale energy storage to counteract the intermittency of some renewables?

Nuclear power, at the very least, is a hugely expensive distraction of minimal benefit in the fight to lower CO2 emissions.

Ian Ralls

Friends of the Earth Nuclear Network, Cambridge

I was excited to read that “Nuclear power is greenest”. I thought perhaps a way had been found to overcome the hazards of nuclear waste, but no mention of waste was made. I cannot help wondering how many “top scientists” would buy a house without any facility to dispose of their toilet waste.

R F Stearn

Stowmarket, Suffolk

Yes, cigarette ends and chewing gum are bad, but for me the mile after mile of plastic bags, soft-drink bottles, cans and fast-food wrappings strewn along every lane, road and motorway verge is worse, often causing me, as a passenger, to close my eyes unable look upon yet more of this lovely country so blighted (“Pick up some of the £1bn litter bill, MPs tell businesses” 4 January). Yet by far the worst are the filled and tied carrier bags of rubbish thrown from a car by occupants who must have more pride in their vehicle’s interior than the world outside. How can it be, that what for me, is our beautiful countryside, is to them, a bin?

Mary Bolingbroke,

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

We are writing in response to your editorial “Common-sense rights” (4 January). We are proud of the coalition’s record on civil liberties.

It is not true that the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill grants the power simply to remove the passports of suspected foreign fighters. There were calls from some during the summer for the power arbitrarily to strip suspected foreign fighters of their citizenship. Liberal Democrats opposed this potential breach of international law and, in fact, the new legislation provides something very different – a managed return process. This will enable the police to speak to those who have fought abroad, and make sure that if they try to return this is done safely and with support – to divert them away from extremist groups.

Simon Hughes MP

Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties

Lynne Featherstone MP

Minister of State for Crime Prevention



People are said to be marrying later in order to avoid the problems of inheritance tax

Actually, Prof, NHS treatment is our right — we pay for it

YOU report that “top doctor” Professor Angus Wallace thinks too many people see the NHS as a right rather than a privilege (“Greedy public think NHS care is their divine right”, News, last week). We pay for it through our taxes. Patients ought not to be seen as supplicants for charity but rather as customers who have earned their treatments. In reality not all health service treatments are available “free” anyway (dentistry, for example).

David Cooper-Smith, Bletchley, Buckinghamshire


The reason the NHS has been failing is that its business model is broken. It has been overprotected by the government and it needs to do far more to ensure that its users — that’s every single one of us — take a more responsible approach to how and when we use its services. It could start by fining people for missing appointments.

William Wilson, London SW11


Perhaps the best way to alleviate problems with A&E departments is to have a local 24-hour triage service that provides trained practitioners to deal with minor injuries and prescriptions for simple ailments as well as referrals for cases meriting further examination.

Peter Edwards, London SE25


We need an intelligent debate on financing the NHS rather than the yah-boo politics that our MPs are able to muster. How do the Germans, Swedes, Dutch and the best of the rest fund their health services?

Ralph Marshall, Bournemouth


With reference to the article “Malaysia, Brazil and China put UK to shame in war on cancer” (News, last week), what all those countries have in common is a strong indigenous tradition of herbal medicine. The NHS and the media should wake up to its benefits, especially in relation to cancer treatments, so they can be properly integrated.

Jonathan Chamberlain, Author, The Cancer Survivor’s Bible and Cancer? Don’t Panic!


The Sunday Times’s NHS Beat Cancer campaign is very worthy and should lead to improvements in treatments of the disease but there is another area in which it could be influential, by promoting the uptake of national cancer screening programmes.

Fewer than 60% of people in Britain take up the offer of bowel cancer screening, a simple diagnostic test sent out by post for people to perform in their own homes. Screening rates for breast and cervical cancer are also suboptimal, so many early-stage cancers are remaining undiagnosed. By campaigning for the greater uptake of these screening programmes you could help improve survival and save lives.

Dr Gerald Sacks, Eynsham, Oxfordshire

With this ring, I dodge the exchequer

ONE prime reason for getting married later in life is to avoid paying George Osborne, the chancellor, two tranches of inheritance tax, so your report “No ring? No rights” (Focus, last week) seems naive in suggesting more romantic interpretations. It is of course iniquitous that those who prefer to cohabit because they disapprove of state intrusion into their private lives should have to compromise and wed or risk ruin. As Dame Jenni Murray said in 2003 after cohabiting for 23 years, “I did it because of inheritance tax.”

Phillip Hodson, Gloucestershire


The position of informal cohabitants is indeed precarious, although it should be noted that those who are looking after their children after a break-up are able to apply for child support from the children’s non-resident parent. The former family court judge Sir Paul Coleridge’s emphasis on education is superficially attractive, but the limited effectiveness of past campaigns is demonstrated by your article. The empirical evidence about the stability of marriage compared with cohabitation, moreover, is not as clear-cut as Coleridge implies when other factors are taken into account.

In any case, and whatever one thinks about the benefits or drawbacks of marriage, attempting to encourage more people to wed is very unlikely to reverse the increasing prevalence of cohabitation to a significant extent. Reform to the law is needed.

Dr Brian Sloan, Lecturer and Fellow in Law, Robinson College, Cambridge

Ched Evans gets red card but guilty peers are forgiven

THE footballer Ched Evans was found guilty and has done his time (“In this sordid story there are no winners”, Focus, last week). Nothing in our legal system states that the convicted person has to apologise. In any case, Evans claims that he has been a victim of a miscarriage of justice so an apology is hardly going to be forthcoming.

Our legal system is meant to be about rehabilitation. We let peers of the realm who have spent time behind bars return to the House of Lords, so why should Evans be prevented from playing football? All this guff about being in the public eye is just that — 99.99% of the population had never heard of him until his conviction.

Terry Lees, Helpringham, Lincolnshire


Evans committed a vile crime, was punished and has been released on licence, but he is being subjected to an unprecedented campaign that is effectively preventing him from finding employment and thereby impeding his rehabilitation. It is clear from this campaign that many believe, as I do, that the crime of rape — along with murder and terrorism — is not punished with sufficient severity. Will MPs who have jumped on the anti-Evans bandwagon now work to change the law to increase the penalty for rape?

Jeffrey Stevenson, Address withheld


Replace footballer with teacher and I doubt there would be any sympathy for a rapist who wanted to carry on teaching after a guilty verdict. Evans’s appeal has been refused thus far; his victim has been hounded.

Carolyn McGrath, Woodford Green, London

Duke’s dairy tramples over animal rights

RICHARD GIRLING writes that unlike René Descartes’s views on animals, modern anthropomorphism helps us to connect more directly with the creatures that share our space (“Look Grumpy Cat in her malevolent eye and tell me animals don’t feel”, Comment, last week). In the same newspaper there is an article (“Dairy Duke’s cows never see daylight”, News) about the inhumane “super-mechanised” farm operated by the Duke of Westminster, where dairy cows are kept inside a shed for 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year, and are milked on a rotating treadmill and pushed to deliver a volume of milk beyond their normal capacity until being culled at an early age.

Since the Duke of Westminster clearly lacks any anthropomorphic beliefs, perhaps he should read the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, who emphasises that animal rights should be based on human ones and rails against man’s systematic cruel domination over animals.

Kay Bagon, Radlett, Hertfordshire

Love of democracy is Ukip’s raison d’être

ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE’S column “Engineers rule China. Lawyers lead the US. We get bluffers and blaggers” (Comment, December 28) describes the aims of Ukip as “deep parochialism”. I have been a member of Ukip for 20 years and know that what drives most of its membership is not fear of foreigners or a sentimental wish to return to 1957 but a desire to maintain the principle of accountable government.

Some years ago I asked Vernon Bogdanor, an emeritus professor of government at Oxford, whether he agreed that our greatest political achievement was that the people had the power not just to elect but also to dismiss their government. He said that it was. I then asked where the comparable mechanism was in the EU, and he said that there wasn’t one.

Mike Lynch, Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire


JENNY HJUL’S 2014 review of Scotland rightly points out the failure of the SNP and Alex Salmond in particular to deliver independence (“The saving of the Union should be lasting legacy of a memorable year”, Comment, December 28, 2014). She pointed out one of the startling achievements in bringing together Labour and Conservatives to fight the Better Together campaign. The political landscape since the referendum indicates that what might have been expected to be of great benefit to the unionist side has not really materialised.

The build-up to the referendum allowed the SNP two years to explain what it wanted for Scotland.Whether you agree with SNP policies or not, the people understood where the party stood, and were confused regarding Labour and the Conservatives.

The call for independence was a step too far. Had a third option been offered to maximise devolution of power from Westminster to Edinburgh, that would have carried the vote by a large majority. To vote for independence in September without any real indication of what that might mean for some 18 months was an unacceptable leap of faith.

The general election in 2015 and Holyrood election in 2016 present far less risk and uncertainty to an electorate that sees Westminster as remote and English-centric.

Mike Cottam, Aviemore, Inverness-shire

Try getting out more

Hjul obviously moves in such rarefied circles that she never meets the hordes that belong to the SNP or indeed the misguided from other political groups, also in favour of an independent Scotland.

Why is there a huge upsurge in membership for the SNP but also the Greens. Our English neighbours are looking for serious change as well, not just votes on English matters but devolved control from Westminster. Did Hjul attend the Women for Independence meetings, where the venue had to change location to accommodate more than 1,000 that wished to attend after the referendum? Did she attend Nicola Sturgeon’s sellout tour of Scotland? A large percentage of the “no” voters are sorely disappointed in the outcome and in the usual patronising response from Westminster.

Patricia Methven, Highlands

Independent thinking

If political parties were in the private sector they would immediately fall foul of two government regulators: Companies House and the Office of Fair Trading. First, for trading while insolvent, and second, for operating a cartel. They are currently incurring levels of debt way beyond our ability to service, let alone repay. However, anyone who dares challenge them is either ignored or traduced by their friends in the media. Rather than voting for them in May, we should be getting rid of them altogether by supporting only independent candidates.

Robert Durward, Biggar, Lanarkshire


Wooldridge laments the preponderance of PPE (philosophy, politics and economics) graduates in the top echelons of politics and society, while standing in for Dominic Lawson (PPE).

Those of us with useful degrees have long since given up wondering why successive governments peopled almost exclusively with arts and humanities graduates continue to make such a mess of things, aided and abetted by their peers in the media. Bluffers and blaggers indeed.

Dr Clive Nuttman, Department of Zoology, Cambridge


The dozens of historians in parliament seem not to have learnt any lessons from the past. Not only can engineers count; they can distinguish between risk and uncertainty, understand scale and know what questions to ask.

Regarding the top two prime ministers of the past 100 years, Margaret Thatcher was a chemist and Winston Churchill did not go to university at all.

Hazel Prowse (double physics), Camberley, Surrey


Last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris have produced more empty statements from politicians. We need to empower our security services, police and military with the ability to fight terrorists without having their hands tied behind their backs. Recent investigations of the CIA and demands for the same within MI5 have weakened international security. Terrorists murder women, children and now cartoonists. They are not bound or deterred by human rights legislation. To ask the security services to keep us safe and then question the manner in which they do so is a failure to protect our democracy and human rights.

Malcolm McDonald, Kelty, Fife


In October I travelled to China and with other group members suffered breathing difficulties and severe eye irritation from the air pollution, so it was with great concern that I read the article “Toxic air monitors may be scrapped” (News, December 28). It will undoubtedly result in a much more lax attitude to air pollution, as in China, and create severe health problems. I understand that air pollution in China has contributed to more than 1m deaths annually in recent years.

Alan O’Connor, Eastbourne


You published a justifiably gloomy report on the Middle East by Michael Sheridan (“Many Middle Eastern faiths, but one prayer: deliver us from persecution”, Comment, December 21). He wrote that “nobody has an exit strategy for their foes”, and then conceded that the persecuted Baha’i of Iran have found sanctuary in Haifa, Israel, before adding: “That is hardly a solution available to everyone.” Of course it isn’t, but is it not a remarkable model for other nations to follow? Israel has also offered asylum to Vietnamese boat people, Christians fleeing Lebanon and thousands of Russian non-Jews climbing onto the Jewish bandwagon. No other nation even approaches such benevolence. The once-hospitable UK balks at accepting even a few thousand persecuted Syrians while admitting some very tricky economic immigrants.

Denis Vandervelde, London NW11


In your list of 2014 literary highlights (“The good, the bad and the grumpy”, Arts & Books, News Review, December 28) you quoted your chief fiction reviewer Peter Kemp’s claim that in a Sydney bookshop PD James once signed one of her novels “To Emma Chizzit” when she misheard a reader who inquired in a broad Australian accent about the price of the book. The author involved was Monica Dickens. I knew both ladies well for many years, Monica as a close friend, and it was she who told me the story when I interviewed her in 1970 after she had just returned from her first author tour to Australia. Phyllis, on the other hand, did not write her first successful book, Innocent Blood, until 1980 and did not make any tours until then.

Graham Lord, London SW15

Corrections and clarifications

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, should be addressed to complaints@sunday-times.co.uk or Complaints, The Sunday Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF. In addition, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) will examine formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines. Please go to our complaints section for full details of how to lodge a complaint.


Mary J Blige, singer, 44; Ben Crenshaw, golfer, 63; Jasper Fforde, novelist, 54; Melvyn Hayes, actor, 80; Emile Heskey, footballer, 37; Jamelia, singer, 34; Phyllis Logan, actress, 59; Tom Meighan, singer, 34; Rachel Riley, TV presenter, 29; Bryan Robson, footballer, 58; Arthur Scargill, trade unionist, 77; John Sessions, actor, 62


1864 London’s Charing Cross rail station opens; 1928 novelist Thomas Hardy dies; 1964 US health department publishes landmark report linking smoking to diseases such as lung cancer; 1973 first Open University graduates receive degrees; 1974 Briton Susan Rosenkowitz gives birth in South Africa to first sextuplets to survive infancy


People hold up pens during a gathering in front of the city hall of Rennes following the attack

People hold up pens during a gathering in front of the city hall of Rennes following the attack  Photo: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

SIR – For a decade or more we have been subject to dictates of political correctness, against our saying or doing anything that might cause offence.

Now, in the light of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, we are told that the freedom to offend is fundamental and to be defended.

Just what are we supposed to do?

Stephen Thomas
Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire

SIR – I admire immensely the stance that France has been taking, in the wake of the atrocities carried out there, on freedom of speech.

Will David Cameron, the Prime Minister, follow suit and allow freedom of speech to return to Britain, or will we still have to look over our shoulder before offering an opinion on race, religion, sexuality or any group to which our politicians pander for votes?

Lieutenant Colonel Ian Beck (retd)
Dearham, Cumbria

SIR – The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on freedom of expression, as well as a horribly murderous attack on individuals. However, we must not allow the French Republic to bask in its own self-image as a bastion of freedom of expression. It is nothing of the kind.

The legal restrictions on freedom of expression are more encompassing in France than in any other country in Europe. A careless choice of word, in an off-the-cuff discussion (or even an attempt to avoid a discussion) can result in a peculiar hybrid criminal prosecution and civil action brought by private organisations.

Such actions might lead to criminal penalties and damages payable to campaigning organisations. Indeed, Charlie Hebdo was the target of such an action as the result of the re-publication of the Danish cartoons. While that action failed in 2007, its menace would have cowed many weaker editorial teams.

France’s repressive restrictions on freedom of expression in the areas of race, religion and ethnicity create a culture of expectation that dissent from the political class’s line will be stamped out. When legal actions fail, illegal action will be pursued.

Andrew Brons
Leeds, West Yorkshire

SIR – Je ne suis pas Charlie. I am appalled at the horrific terrorist attack in France. While I am a committed advocate of free speech and am deeply against the puritanical doctrinal path that some strands of Islam are taking, I am in no way a fan of Charlie Hebdo, in particular its unnecessary decision to reprint the 2005 Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons.

I believe in mutual tolerance, respect and love. This sort of divisive hate-spreading incitement causes damage by radicalising and dehumanising both sides.

Am I alone in seeing parallels between these cartoons and those depicting Jews in Thirties Germany?

Max Jalil

SIR – The Oxford Dictionary defines phobia as “an extreme or often irrational fear of or aversion to something”: Islamophobia is defined differently, as “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force”.

In the traditional sense of phobia, I am unfortunately, but undeniably, Islamophobic. Yes, I do fear Islam: I fear for my future, and my children’s, because of the danger that fundamentalist Islamic fanatics cause. I fear that until the Islamic hierarchy, political or religious, stands up to eradicate the fanatics among them, then my fears are indeed justified.

Gidon Stemmer

SIR – I follow no faith, but mainly observe Christian moral values. Many comments about the slaughter in Paris, by people who assume they are Christian, civilised, Western and cultured, condemn the actions of a fanatical cadre.

However, they do not seem uncomfortable about the uncivilised, insensitive, childish, intellectually presumptuous cartoons in Charlie Hebdo.

Anyone with any decency, even if agnostic, should observe sensitivity and respect for other cultures’ beliefs.

David Culm
Littleover, Derbyshire

SIR – The Paris shooting was ghastly, but why is so much attention given to it yet so little to repeated killings of this nature in Nigeria, where more people are murdered?

In Paris there had been provocation by some of those killed. In Nigeria there is none other than that of not being Muslim.

David Pitts
East Molesey, Surrey

Unprosecuted crimes

SIR – How disingenuous of Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, to say he wants to end the cautions culture. He is the architect of the latest and arguably the most savage cuts to both prosecution and defence funding, which have produced this unhappy state of affairs.

The drive to save costs has resulted in a culture of routinely charging people with less serious offences than would previously have been the charge, in order to encourage guilty pleas in low-profile, high-volume cases. If, despite this, the case seems to be heading for a trial, ludicrously lenient plea packages are increasingly agreed by the Crown, save in the most egregious cases, rather than suffer the time and expense of litigating the matter.

The sentencing judge is bound to sentence only on what an offender has pleaded guilty to. The net result is that many really quite serious offences go unprosecuted or underprosecuted.

Yvonne Coen QC
Stamford, Lincolnshire

A duty to the electorate

(Rex Features)

SIR – David Cameron, the Prime Minister, says he will not take part in the general election TV leadership debates unless the Green Party is included.

I believe that any candidate for political office has a moral duty to present himself or herself for public scrutiny. This is particularly important for those seeking leadership positions. Perhaps the time has now come when participation should be a legal requirement for those seeking office.

Doug Clark
Currie, Midlothian

Scrapheap of history

SIR – When I spent the year 1963-64 as Reuters’ (and the West’s) sole correspondent in East Berlin, I had a Wartburg (Letters, January 6). It was a disgusting pink colour but it was compulsory. This horror had one advantage: you could sneer at Trabants as you went past them.

On October 1 1990, reunification day, I watched the new masters from the west sweep past in their Mercedes and run the Wartburgs and Trabants off the road. I almost felt sorry for them.

Frederick Forsyth
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Telephone directories

SIR – High Wycombe is not the only place that BT has moved into another county (Letters, January 8).

In Cardiff, the eastern section with the postcode CF3 is deemed by BT to be situated in Newport and given a Newport telephone directory.

If we want a local directory, we have to buy one for £10.

I have challenged this over many years and am always told by the marketing department in Scotland that this part of Cardiff is deemed to be in Newport “for marketing purposes”.

It seems to have escaped BT that its directories are passé and have a diminishing marketing value.

Barrie W Cooper

Law unto Broadchurch

Olivia Colman in ‘Broadchurch’ (Patrick Redmond/ITV)

SIR – As often happens when screenwriters do not take authoritative legal advice when venturing into legal waters, Broadchurch, an otherwise excellent show (Letters, January 9), seems now to be talking nonsense.

I was a barrister in private practice in London from 1963 to 2006. The suggestion that the family of the victim would hunt out a QC to “represent them” or “take the prosecution on their behalf” is ridiculous.

It is not their case; it is the State’s case. Presumably the famous lady QC is expected to put pressure on the Crown Prosecution Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions, perhaps calling in a past favour or two, so that she is nominated by them as counsel for the prosecution.

I do not necessarily think nobly of those gentlemen, but I certainly do not see them being pushed into making such a choice; more likely involvement of the QC with the family would make it certain that she would not be selected.

Charles Lewis
London N2

Tough as old boots

SIR – Our tortoise lives in the garden and is more than 80 years old. The only medical intervention he has had followed a fox bite on his undershell, which drew blood. A little well-placed epoxy resin glue and he was good as new. That was 10 years ago.

Mary Whittle
Rochester, Kent

The scientific truth behind an old wives’ tale

Salad days: a 19th-century still life by the Belgian painter David Emile Joseph de Noter (www.bridgemanart.com)

SIR – It is in fact true that carrots “allow you to see in the dark”.

The carotene pigment that gives them their orange colour is both an antioxidant and pre-vitamin A. Converted to vitamin A in the body it combines with the opsin protein found in the rods at the back of the retina to form the compound visual purple. It is this compound that is responsible for the detection of light. Thus, the earliest clinical symptom of vitamin A deficiency is night blindness; the inability of the eye to adjust to dim light.

Dr Ruth Ash
School of Human Sciences
London Metropolitan University

A chance for young musicians to excel on stage

SIR – Ivan Hewett makes many appreciative comments in his review of the National Youth Orchestra’s concert at the Barbican, for which we thank him. We appreciate serious criticism because our high standards demand it.

Mr Hewett also questions the wisdom of fielding a double-sized orchestra. We do this primarily because NYO exists to give breakthrough experiences of orchestral music to teenage musicians and audiences, and we want as many talented, committed young musicians as possible to have the chance to play with NYO. For many it is a life-changing experience, and we have to turn away far more than we would like.

Our size has an added benefit. It helps keep the NYO culture of youthful brilliance in orchestral performance alive from year to year. Our standards rely not just on our teaching team and conductors such as John Wilson, but also on peer inspiration. New members learn a tremendous amount about how to excel as orchestral musicians by following the lead of our returning members.

There are limits to what you can achieve with an orchestra of 163 teenage musicians, more than half of whom are playing in a world-class orchestra for the first time. But those limits are set far higher than you might expect if you have never heard NYO perform. Readers who wish to decide for themselves can hear our Barbican concert that was broadcast by BBC Radio 3 yesterday, at any time in the next 30 days via BBC iPlayer.

Sarah Alexander
Chief Executive & Artistic Director, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
London WC2


Globe and Mail:

Doug Saunders

Europe threatened by its own ‘clash of civilizations’


Irish Independent:

Sunday 11 January 2015

Bankers can celebrate

Published 11/01/2015 | 02:30


Sir – I write to you in response to the ‘Letter of the Week’ written by Mel Devlin, (Sunday Independent, 4 January).

  • Go To

He refers to “bankers” having a Christmas office party, but makes no reference to what bank is involved, whether the attendees paid for their own drinks and how many of the hundreds he says were there were actually bank employees.

Instead he took the word of the door security and then proceeded to put pen to paper.

Yes, I too have been stung by the financial crisis – mostly because of my own making and indeed with some help from the financial institutions, developers, accountants, solicitors and estate agents who drove the market wild at that time. And no I don’t work in a bank, but I do have a number of close friends who do at branch banking level, including my son.

I would not deny the right of any of these employees to have a get-together at Christmas in whatever shape or fashion they wish. Mr Devlin appears to have an issue with that.

But citing the tragic death of that poor homeless man was not in any way relevant to this so-called Christmas office party. That death was an extremely sad event and should not be used as a tool to make rash comparisons.

John Ryan,

Dublin 24

Thank to all the medics and jockeys

Sir – I want to thank two professional bodies who from time to time are linked together in the work they do.

My first thanks goes to the staff at James Connolly Memorial Hospital in Blanchardstown, who looked after me when I broke my leg during Christmas week, especially the orthopaedic team who work under what is obviously a section needing further funding.

Perhaps Minister Varadaker might visit his old Alma Mater where he trained as a doctor and see for himself the conditions that exist there?

My second sincere thanks goes to the great warriors who take part in National Hunt Racing.

When any one of these great sports people get broken up it’s the professionals from an orthopaedic team who put them back together and allow them to entertain us like they did me watching the Christmas racing festivals from Leopardstown, Limerick and Kempton. Fred Molloy,


Dublin 15

Sunday Independent

Thousands of people gather for a moment of silence to pay their respects to the victims of the deadly attack at the Paris offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in Lyon, central France, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.
Thousands of people gather for a moment of silence to pay their respects to the victims of the deadly attack at the Paris offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in Lyon, central France, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.

Sir – It’s over 25 years since the Ayatollah Khomeni issued the fatwa on Salman Rushdie for “blaspheming against Islam”. We are not ‘rushing to judgement’ when we say we are weary of this medieval barbarism and its relentless quest to stifle debate and censor commentary.

  • Go To

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, sections of a cowed public express vague fears about the potential ‘Islamophobia’. This is a construct of the addled, fevered, post-colonial imagination.

What’s remarkable is not that the odd incident of anti-Islamic sentiment may occur after such a brutal assault on our way of life but how rare and isolated such incidents actually are. The civilised and dignified restraint being shown by the French public is remarkable.

Our own history is one of censorship and religious intolerance. We cannot let our liberal instincts carry us blindly towards appeasement, in the face of such evil. We should champion life and all the things that make it a bit more bearable and that includes satire and freedom of expression.

S O’Neill,


Dublin 3

Pressure is on Creighton’s party

Sir – I do hope that Ms Lucinda Creighton and her political cohorts in this newly found party Reform Alliance are successful with their future endeavours.

And I can say with certainty that having politicians of the calibre of Shane Ross is a good platform too to begin with, as I respect him for his honesty.That’s a refreshing approach.

We need political honesty instead of this two-faced hypocrisy we have been enduring for decades. That type of intolerable underhanded deceitfulness infuriates me as the citizens of Ireland have been and will continue be the financial victims of too many unaccountable political regimes for far too long.

Therefore, I am hopeful that people like me can be assured that, all the members of this newly founded party will succeed in their endeavour to firmly invoke the true meaning of the word “reform”.

The present regime has wilfully failed dramatically to even begin the process of reform. Our politicians epitomise the true meaning of self-preservation, and that has been achieved through their abuse of power. That’s why the people have been let down too often and I do believe this country is in urgent need of serious political restoration.

Having said that, and owing to Ms Creighton’s previous political affiliations, I would have some reservations about her party policies on reform. But I shall remain an optimist in the hope it won’t become an over-ambitious party whose members will forget the principles on which the party has been founded.

Moreover, I don’t want to see or even hear of them entering into coalition or amalgamating with the big boys and ending up yet another failed statistic in the annals of political history.

In all honesty, no political party has even attempted to prioritise the future security for long-term employment for the people of this country despite all their pre-election reassurances and promises. Hence, I believe the pressure is already on Ms Creighton’s party to bring about a more trustworthy political establishment so that we’ve a more equal society for the good of all us Irish citizens.

Matthew J Greville,


Co Westmeath


Real change is what we want

Sir – Your front page last week made it clear why our country is still heading downhill fast on a greasy mattress of lies and deception in all areas, especially health, environment and finance.

FF and FG are now proving that they have never been in genuine opposition, except for photo opportunities. They are now planning to confirm that they have both been living from the trough of decent people’s taxes and wish to continue that party at all costs.

Integrity – no thank you.

For anybody to decry Lucinda Creighton or Sinn Fein is to deny what FF and FG have done to the country over the last 15 years. We desperately need real change in several areas and they might just bring it. To even consider electing a FF/FG coalition is the equivalent of contemplating taking two brands of headache pill for a broken leg.

Richard Barton,


Co Wicklow

Stephen should’ve joined Lucinda

Sir, Stephen Donnelly (“Move to challenge the status quo is to be welcomed” Sunday Independent, January 4) welcomes Lucinda Creighton’s political initiative.

He appears to support her guiding principles and suggests that like her, he is working to positively change the political system.

Why did he choose not to join Lucinda’s political initiative where his talents could be best served in achieving their common goals?

Frank Browne


Dublin 16

Lucinda is on a certified loser

Sir – New skin for the old ceremony wrote Leonard Cohen. New party, whispers Lucinda Creighton. Is she so far removed from the people that she assumes them to be desperate?

Eddie Hobbs was a poster boy for Celtic Tiger Ireland but is now a (re) visionary on how it went belly up. An unknown councillor, John Leahy, and that’s it. The rest to follow.

Ms Creighton, apart from a single issue has backed her countyman, Mr Kenny and FG. What’s new and radical about that – apart from keeping an each-way bet viable?

The next election will split four ways. Sinn Fein, FG, and FF will be the main parties. Probably a disparate number of Independents will equal if not surpass the Big Three. But Ms Creighton carries all the relevancy of a loser’s betting docket.

The Irish people have had a bellyfull of insignificant little parties screwing them. In that I include DL (alias Labour), Greens and the PDs.

Sad when we look back with tinted glasses at Charlie and Bertie and say ” Yerra were they that bad?” Ireland needs many things at the moment. An opaque talking shop fronted by Eddie and Lucinda is not one of them.

John Cuffe,


Co Meath

New centre-right party not needed

Sir – Lucinda Creighton, the ex-Fine Gael TD and junior minister, has decided to grace the Irish people with a new political party, yet to receive a name. She and her nameless party have yet to announce their economic and social policies.

However, based on her previous actions in Dail Eireann when she was a member of Fine Gael and supported the austerity measures, we may expect similar. She is on record (in the Sunday Independent of January 4) as stating that she favours the continuation of the incorrectly named property tax and the new water charges.

Although she has stated that she favours the abolition of the universal social charge, her previous actions in relation to this speak volumes.

She did not oppose it when it was implemented. The only difference that may be seen between this yet-to-be-named party and the party that she and some of her colleagues left is their opposition to the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.

It may also be stated that Fianna Fail are no different.

In this country we do not need another centre-right party.

Dr Tadhg Moloney,



Let us have a new Proclamation

Sir – Since the 2008-2009 crisis, the Irish citizen pays significantly more in tax, whether it is the water charge, the LPT, the Universal Social Charge or the pension levy.

Throw in the 23pc in VAT now compared to the 21pc before the crisis and what have we got to show for it?

Better public services? More resources for education? A more efficient and effective health service? None of the above.

Add to this a stealthy reduction in government funding for registered charities, and the calculus is simple – we pay more, we receive less, despite the Government benefitting from its lowest ever borrowing costs.

Yet our semi-state entities and quangos still want the best of both worlds – private sector pay and public sector pensions and job security.

I no longer have faith in the Irish Government, having unfashionably supported the need for some measure of austerity when it was needed. With a booming economy, falling unemployment, and low interest rates, this much austerity is no longer needed.

I would love to see the political parties come together to produce a blueprint for Ireland’s social and economic future that provides a means for our children to live in a cohesive and economically viable society, punching above its weight internationally.

Gavin Dredge,


Co Dublin

Timely tips for the year ahead

Sir – This year, for other people: try a smile (it will make them feel good). For the mind – try to read more (it will encourage you to write more… which will mean more letters for the Letters Page). For the soul – try to pray more (nothing is impossible to God). For peace – ignore the bullies (they’re just very sad people). For the future – try to leave the past behind, and live and enjoy one day at a time.

Brian McDevitt,


Co Donegal


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