25 January 2015 Birdwatch

Mary a little better she could manage to get up for breakfast. I do bird watch duties for the RSPB 14 birds, but squirrels were there for 20 minutes.


Mountcastle being presented with the National Medal of Science by President  Reagan in 1986

Mountcastle being presented with the National Medal of Science by President Reagan in 1986 Photo: The Washington Post

Vernon Mountcastle, who has died aged 96, was the neuroscientist known as the “Jacques Cousteau of the Cortex” for his discovery of the columnar structure of the cerebral cortex — the brain’s outer layer of neural tissue or “grey matter”.

In the 1950s Mountcastle, a scientist at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, carried out experiments on the brains of cats using then new microelectrodes. In 1957 he reported that when a microelectrode was inserted vertically in the region of the cat brain that processes local mechanical stimulation of the body surface, it encountered neurons (nerve cells) that all responded to the same type of stimulus.

When the electrode was moved to nearby locations in the brain, it found similar responses of neurons located in verticals tracking down through the cortex, though the functional characteristics of the neurons were often different from those on parallel tracks. For example, nerve cells along one track might respond to light touch, while those along another track might respond to pressure.

By contrast when the electrode was inserted horizontally into the cat’s brain so that it passed across the cortex, it encountered cells responding to different types of stimuli. Although his findings, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, are accepted as commonplace today, they were so controversial at the time — scientists believed that neurons were arranged in horizontal layers — that two of the researchers who worked with him refused to have their names attached to the article . As Mountcastle later recalled: “One critic said that the idea [of the columnar structure of the cortex] was just the ‘musings of an old man’ and I was only 39!”

A few years after his discovery, David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel found a comparable arrangement in the visual cortex of the cat and monkeys.

In the 1970s, Mountcastle carried out similar research into the parietal lobe of the cortex, the region involved in higher functions , work for which he won the 1983 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. His findings led him to speculate in “An organising principle of cerebral function”, published in The Mindful Brain (1978 ), that vertical neural units represent a fundamental feature of the mammalian cortex that might be relevant to brain functions that are poorly understood, such as cognitive ability and even consciousness. The paper has been described as “the Rosetta Stone of neuroscience”.

The middle of five children, Vernon Benjamin Mountcastle was born in Shelbyville, Kentucky, on July 15 1918 to parents of Scottish descent. His father was a partner in a railway company while his mother was a former teacher.

The family moved to Roanoke, Virginia, when he was three. After graduating from Roanoke College in 1938, he took a medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1942. During the Second World War he served as a battlefield surgeon at Anzio and the Normandy invasions.

Returning to Johns Hopkins after the war, Mountcastle found there were no neurosurgery posts available immediately, so he joined the school of medicine’s physiology laboratory under Philip Bard, following a perfunctory interview at which Bard simply wanted to know whether Mountcastle thought there was a psychological factor in motion sickness and, when he gave the answer “no”, invited him to join his research team.

Mountcastle went on to serve as director of the department of physiology and head of the Philip Bard Laboratories of Neurophysiology at Johns Hopkins from 1964 to 1980. Later he was a founding member of the university’s Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, where he continued to work until his retirement aged 87.

In addition to the Lasker, Mountcastle won numerous other awards including the US National Medal of Science and the National Academy of Sciences Award in Neurosciences.

In 1945 he married Nancy Pierpont, who survives him with a son and daughter. Another son died in an accident in 1969.

Vernon Mountcastle, born July 15 1918, died January 11 2015



Care home
Our frontline staff are increasingly concerned about the impact on vulnerable people in our care. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

The health and social care system is chronically underfunded. While this remains the case, care and support for elderly and disabled people will only deteriorate. It is vital we put this right. Spending on social care has been prioritised by councils, but a 40% cut in government funding over this parliament has taken its toll. It is an inescapable truth that reduced funding for social care has had a knock-on impact on NHS services.

Councils work incredibly hard with health partners to ease the growing strain on the NHS. But putting extra investment into the NHS without easing the pressure on council budgets is not the solution. Without adequate funding for care, the NHS will continue to be forced to pick up the pieces from a social care system that is not resourced to meet demands, which will be increasingly unable to keep people out of hospitals. This would be a disaster for the health service and those left languishing in hospital beds instead of being cared for in their own homes and communities.

Our frontline staff are increasingly concerned about the impact this is having on vulnerable people in our care. It’s not enough to plaster over the cracks. Government must invest money in protecting a system which will be there to look after people now and in the future, and must commit to a long-term strategy to ensure people get the care they need. The system is in crisis now. We cannot wait any longer for it to be fixed.

Cllr David Sparks,

Chair, Local Government Association

Peter Carter

Chief executive, Royal College of Nursing

Rob Webster

Chief executive, NHS Confederation

Dr Mark Porter

Chair, British Medical Association

Richard Hawkes

Chair, Care and Support Alliance

Erase the voting pencil

Andrew Rawnsley is surely right about the risks to democracy and the future of Britain if young people tend not to vote (“The fewer young people that vote, the worse for the future of Britain”, Comment,). One way to help would be to make the process more in tune with their normal experience; going to a church hall or whatever and using a pencil to make a mark on a slip of paper must seem outlandish to today’s youth.

A secure online voting system (working alongside the traditional one) would be more appropriate for the modern world and would, over time, become the natural way votes are cast. It would also enable easier, more frequent expressions of the popular will – for example, a vote on a coalition programme developed in response to a hung parliament or even the annual parliaments proposed by the Chartists.

Nowadays, it seems that one can use any electronic device to express an opinion on the whole range of unimportant issues, so why not on the most important ones?  Revising the antiquated arrangements for our general elections would not only encourage more young people to engage with the process, it has the potential to revitalise the whole of our democracy.

Jem Whiteley


Sour taste of Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola does not always need to spend large amounts of money on its sponsorship (“Welcome to the Coca-Cola London Eye… but health charities are already seeing red”, Business, last week). In Uganda, it has provided schools with new signs without having to do more than pay for the sign and its erection. It is thus able not only to export more Coca-Cola, it is free to export more of the diseases of western culture, insinuating the brand with youngsters. This “structural grooming”, seeking to gain advantage to the detriment of those it seeks to exploit, should be condemned as much as any other form of grooming of children.

Prof Adrian Sutton

Hon senior teaching fellow, Manchester Medical School ;

Visiting professor of psychiatry, Gulu University, Uganda

Utopia explained

Vanessa Thorpe notes that readers of Thomas More’s Utopia are puzzled because of the differences between its ideas and his Catholicism (“He is the villain of Wolf Hall. But is Thomas More getting a raw deal?” In Focus). Enlightenment would follow were they to appreciate two facts, which More’s readers 500 years ago would have appreciated. The people in the book are pagans and thus do not have the light of revelation as a guide. While as rational beings they are capable of reaching the right conclusions in many cases, lacking the divine light, they inevitably go off the rails. Some might see similarities between the book and the present day. As for the difference between More and Cromwell, More was executed as a martyr because he refused to deny his beliefs; Cromwell was executed because he overreached himself.

Denis Lenihan

London SW19

Menace of The Machine

Nicholas Carr’s argument about the perils of automation, recounted by Carole Cadwalladr (“The Glass Cage: where automation is taking us”, New Review), was anticipated by EM Forster in his short story, The Machine Stops, first published in 1909. The inhabitants of a polluted and degraded Earth live in individual protected cells, communicating via screens, their every need catered for by The Machine. A small band of rebels brave the dangerous surface, learn to breathe the uncleaned and unwarmed air, exercise to strengthen their bodies, learn to find food… when The Machine breaks down, only they survive.

Pam Lunn

Kenilworth, Warwickshire

Fracking protest
A protest sign set up near a proposed fracking site in Lancashire. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Observer

As a resident of Fylde with some oil and gas experience, I feel there has been too much said and written about fracking (“A county divided: is Lancashire ready for its fracking revolution?”, News, last week).

The technology exists (with one exception) to carry out this process with as close to zero risk as any human activity. The technical exception is the radioactive content of the water that comes back to the surface. Your feature mentions the solitary UK frack at Preese Hall, where measurements of the returned water contained between 1.2 and 9 times the radioactivity allowed for general discharge. This was disposed of, untreated, by dilution because the quantity was relatively small. That would absolutely not be acceptable for production quantities. One official suggested that existing treatment processes and facilities would cope with dilution as a solution. They will not even begin to cope.

That takes us to the main reason for public hostility. You do not need technical expertise to see that a monitoring of regulations (which do not cover all aspects of fracking, despite what is claimed) to ensure compliance, conducted by a group of agencies each reporting to a different government department, is a recipe for chaos. One senior Conservative admitted at a public meeting that the set-up was “intellectually strange”. Totally dysfunctional is more accurate.

It could all have been so different if those who knew what they are talking about had been listened to in the first place. As it is, the way this “debate” has been conducted, particularly by government, is a case study for any business school in how not to do it. The public is justified in disbelieving anything “officialdom” tells it.

Mike Turner

Lytham St Annes

Your two-page spread about fracking in Lancashire missed out the fundamental issue and that is climate change. It’s as though there is a conspiracy to keep quiet about it and see its application to everyday issues as a nerdy or a knitted sandal brigade concern.

When will it be part of our normal understanding that climate change is here and unless we plan to reduce the extraction of fossil fuel from the earth drastically there will be a build up of catastrophes for human civilisation. Fossil fuels have stored up energy from the sun over millions of years: how can we expect the release of this in a few hundred years to produce no consequences? Time may have already run out.

The Rev Mike Plunkett

Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire

Damian Carrington presents a balanced picture of the strongly divided opinion within communities on fracking. It is clear that the government and the industry need to do much more to gain the confidence and trust of communities facing fracking proposals, including strengthening safeguards for people and the environment.

This is why CPRE is calling for the government to change proposals in the infrastructure bill, currently being considered by parliament, which are inconsistent with the claim that the UK has world-class fracking rules. Proposals such as to allow fracking companies to deposit any substance underground are unnecessarily wide-reaching and likely to exacerbate widespread public concern. Along with the RSPB, National Trust and Wildlife Trusts, we want to see additional protections for sensitive landscapes, such as nationally and internationally protected areas.

More meaningful, inclusive and independent public engagement on fracking is also urgently needed with the prospect of new planning proposals affecting other communities.

With a much more deliberative approach required, it is unclear how far the £5m public engagement fund announced by the government in the autumn statement will go to fulfilling this need.

Nick Clack

Senior energy campaigner

Campaign to Protect Rural England

London SE1



You quote Manwar Ali, an ex-Afghan jihadi, saying that dividing the world starkly into “them” and “us” (believers and non-believers) is the first step on the road to violent extremism (‘I am not afraid of confronting this mafia now’, 18 January).

Dividing people into two distinct groups, however, is the very first thing that all the main religions do and is central to their doctrines – the saved and the damned, the Jew and the gentile, the Muslim and the infidel, the righteous and the unrighteous. One group finds salvation and eternal life, the other is condemned to burn in Hell for all eternity, and usually given a hard time on earth first. This is deliberately divisive and elevates some people above others, purely on the grounds of their ideas about gods, and makes no distinction between those who believe in other gods and those who believe in no gods at all.

Bizarrely, this segregationist nature of religious belief finds its earliest expression here in faith schools with their discriminatory selection and employment protections. It is a tragedy that this is vested upon innocent children and encouraged by our governments in both Holyrood and Westminster.

AListair McBay

National Secular Society


I applaud Dilwar Hussain, Sara Khan, Manwar Ali and Adam Deen for having the guts to challenge their co-religionists who peddle the “non-violent extremism” that gives succour to the Islamists who threaten to tear us apart. As a teacher, I found Muslims just as willing to participate in every aspect of school life as their non-Muslim friends. But I was also aware of an increasingly separatist narrative in the local community, with ever-more women in niqabs – which broke my heart. For the sake of those beautiful children who so passionately want to embrace our society, we must hope that the forces of reason will prevail.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor, Berkshire

Fascinating though I found your  18 January article about the “top eight” who have portrayed Henry VIII, the omission of Keith Michell from the list seems positively egregious. Here was an actor who not only played the king so memorably in a widely acclaimed television series (for which he won the Best Actor Bafta in 1971), but successfully reprised the role in a 1972 film adaptation: am I alone in my admiration of both of his performances?

Jeremy Redman

London SE6

Ellen Jones draws attention to the news that nearly a million people have gone missing from the electoral register, (“Locking the ballot box”, 18 January). This is the result of a change from household to individual registration. This change was bound to be disastrous in practice. The new system was introduced to combat voter fraud but I have yet to hear of a potential fraud that was not covered by electoral law – if candidates and parties choose to use the provisions. The key one is the right to have polling agents at polling stations with the right to challenge anyone they felt was not entitled to vote. These days few candidates and parties have the personnel available to undertake this important task, which may be why they prefer the new system, even if it reduces the numbers on the register.

Michael Meadowcroft

Leeds, West Yorkshire

Ellen Jones asks why David Starkey is still invited to be a current affairs commentator. It’s because he’s more intelligent, more knowledgeable, more interesting, more perceptive, and more honest than the great majority of so called pundits.

Peter Hudson

Woking, Surrey

John May (Letters, 18 January) says we should consume grass-fed cows because grain-fed cows are bad for the planet. But, surely, we must first of all acknowledge that animals are sentient beings like us. Therefore, the moral case for going vegan will always override any environmental – or indeed health – concerns people may have about animal farming.

Mark Richards

Brighton, East Sussex



The English Spelling Society claims that the language is too difficult for children to learn The English Spelling Society claims that the language is too difficult for children to learn

Spelling out the dangers of letting literacy standards slip

OVER the past few years part of my work has been to try to employ people for a range of positions — from sales to administration and from apprentice to management level — and I have been shocked by the poor written and spoken English of younger applicants (“Language reformers vow to end embarrassment for bad spellers”, News, last week).

The older candidates seem to have been able to learn to read and write it, despite its many challenges, while their younger counterparts have not. Are older people cleverer than today’s youngsters, or were they taught more effectively?

There is no need to “improve” the English spelling system; there is a need to teach the language well and to expect our schoolchildren to reach acceptable standards in it.

If we want to advance the literacy of pupils we should help them understand that “txt speek” is not English. Being fluent in the former and not being equally fluent in the latter will lead to a failure to reach their true potential.
John Wedrychowski, Tamworth


How does one account for the fact that a great many British schoolchildren find it hard to spell English words correctly yet in Germany and France, where I was based, children wrote English quite effortlessly with generally 100% correct spelling?

They even enjoyed the challenge of learning the unusual idiosyncrasies of words in the English language along with their meaning.
Marlene Hill, via email


Perhaps a simple way to test the efficacy of “simplr speling” for the nationcome the “genral lekshun” would be to insist that all “ax of parlamnt” during the first year should be written in that form. One suspects that this would not make a great deal of difference, in terms of interpretation and enforcement.
Stephen Garford, London NW6


So spelling reform is back on the agenda, which seems to happen every 25 years. English is a highly stressed language, so how do we spell unstressed syllables, for instance? Take the word prison “prizn”; is this a one or two-syllable word?

Then there is the question of noun and verb forms where the noun is stressed on the first syllable but the verb on the second — a rebel (“rebl”), say, versus to rebel (“rbel”). In all the spelling reform proposals I’ve encountered I have never seen this stress aspect dealt with.
Michael Ross, Exeter

Wind power’s supposed benefits are a load of hot air

THE excessive economic and social costs of wind-driven renewable energy have been hidden by misleading claims on the supposed benefits. I will try to simplify what I consider to be the actual situation.

Assume we require a total of 10 units of electricity to supply Scotland with electrical power.

Conventional and nuclear power must be available to supply these 10 units of electricity 100% of the time; this is required due to the severe limitations of wind power, ie weather conditions allow wind turbines to work for only approximately 60% of the time.

The operational limitation of conventional/nuclear power generation means that power stations can only reduce electrical generation to about 4-5 units. This is the minimum conventional electrical generation can operate to and still be available to produce 10 units of electrical power at short notice.

Therefore the most power we can use from wind generation is about 5-6 units.

The Scottish government policy is to have wind generation capacity of 10 units, therefore if the Scottish government succeeds in this policy, it will mean that not only will we be paying a high cost for the actual power we use, but, when wind conditions do allow power generation, we will need to pay approximately half the turbines not to generate electricity all of this time.

All the above is supposed to reduce CO2, but when conventional power generation is running at 50% power it actually produces more CO2 per unit of electricity generated.
George O’Brien, Anstruther, Fife


Some educational theorists seemed determined to handicap pupils when they enter working life. Like any other skill, spelling correctly has to be learnt. There is a simple and very effective tool for this. It’s called a dictionary.
Vernon Robinson, Cambridge


I teach Spanish to Britons and English to the Spanish and indeed it is much more difficult to get started in English because of our spelling compared with Spanish. Once you know the relatively few spelling and pronunciation rules in Spanish, what you write is generally what you say. However, as you progress, English in many ways becomes easier. Our verbs and tenses are much easier to conjugate, for example, compared with those in Spanish.

Incidentally, my English spelling has deteriorated over the years. I believe this is down to the use of the spellchecker on my computer, or predictive text on my mobile, meaning that I don’t have to bother with entering a correct spelling — just something approximate and the work is done for me.
Tim Shilling, Murcia, Spain


The advent of text-speak not only spells disaster for written English as used by the younger generations, but also appears to curtail their attention spans to SMS-sized messages. Language reformers need not worry about spelling reforms as they have already been pre-empted on this front. Text-speak will in due course become the de facto method for written English. Perhaps the reformers can think of a new name for this form of communication: should it be called txtspeak, text English, or even Tinglish?
Abdul Karim, Leeds

Weeding out drunks would patch up A&E waiting times

ROD LIDDLE puts his finger on the button — as usual — by airing his views on the grossly obese people whom we all have to pay for when they need NHS help (“It’s time to chuck the fatties off the benefits gravy train”, Comment, last week).

You could draw the same conclusions about the problems in our A&E departments. If the process of primary triage could place all those patients who are drunk or under the influence of drugs into a designated waiting room, to go to the end of the queue until staff have time to attend to them, they could create a separate statistic that would amaze us. With one simple adjustment, if you take these self-inflicted cases out of the statistics, you could probably reduce the maximum waiting time to three hours.
Robin Pooley, Strumpshaw, Norfolk


I reported to A&E one Saturday night after slipping and breaking my wrist (“Making the grazed knees and twisted ankles wait longer will help heal A&E”, Comment, January 11). On arrival I was surprised to find the waiting area full of people who didn’t seem to have a great deal wrong with them, apart from having had too much to drink.

Never mind the four-hour wait — I was thankful that I was duly seen and my wrist sorted out. The staff nurse told me I’d won the prize that night for being the only sober patient there.

I won’t hear a word spoken against the frontline nursing and consultancy staff in this enviable service that is free at the point of need as a result of ordinary people such as myself paying their taxes.
Gerald Unwin, Sheffield

Cigarette smoke and mirrors

THE hapless Jane Ellison, public health minister, must curse the invention of the internet. Even a cursory investigation of her claims that plain packaging for cigarettes is likely to have a positive impact on public health reveals compelling evidence that they are false.

The long-term decline in smoking in Australia was reversed by the introduction of plain packaging and that fact is based on legitimate product sales. Counterfeit suppliers are rubbing their hands with glee at the opportunities this self-righteous stupidity will provide.

There is no excuse to be unaware of an entire country’s experience of this proposed legislation. The Australian government sharply increased excise duty on sales, leading to a short-term decline, but revenue has consistently beaten expectations and the government expects revenue to continue to rise.
Hamish Hossick, Dundee


One of the main roots of the A&E problem is the fact that 40% of those attending do not need to be there. This situation is exacerbated by filling such departments with excellent but less experienced medical staff. Treatment is therefore oriented towards the risk-averse, “just in case” model.

The priority is to reduce the inappropriate 40%, and one way of achieving this is by bringing in experienced clinical staff who have the knowledge and the confidence to direct these people away from A&E to more appropriate sources of treatment.
Mike Swift (retired NHS manager)


It is becoming monotonous to hear the ills of our NHS blamed largely on the ageing population. These were the very people who worked for 40 or 50 years, paying their taxes into a system for when they had need of medical care.

The elderly in their day didn’t clog up the hospitals by binge drinking and would not go to A&E with trivial matters.
Peter Scrutton, Dunston, Lincolnshire


Dominic Lawson’s assertion that Nick Clegg vetoed the Boundary Commission proposals because he lost the alternative referendum is incorrect (“No TV debates — so what? I’ll tell you a real democratic scandal”, Comment, last week). To my recollection the reason that David Cameron ditched reform of the House of Lords was due to opposition from his own party.
John Boyd, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire

Unholy alliance of technology and terrorism

AFTER the terrorist atrocities in Paris some commentators appear to be asserting that the relatively few jihadists cannot undermine our rich and strong society. In the 16th century the number of assassinations and attempted assassinations of monarchs and leaders rose sharply after the Reformation divided Europe into two camps.

This was because people prepared to murder on religious grounds did not fear death. They were assured by their priests or ministers that killing a Protestant or Catholic leader would send them straight from the scaffold to paradise. The Catholic Duke of Guise was murdered by a Protestant in 1563. Henry III of France was murdered in 1589, and Henry IV in 1610, by fanatics who did not think they were Catholic enough.

Technical advances made it possible to kill people in unprecedented numbers without much effort. In 1585 a boat loaded with gunpowder caused hundreds of deaths at the siege of Antwerp. Modern science plus fanatics — this time from outside Europe — could do incalculable damage.
Margaret Brown, Burslem, Staffordshire


During my sojourns on the Continent I used to be a manslammer — and very often a receiver of slams too (“Women refuse to budge for pavement manslammers”, News, last week). But rarely did I experience such behaviour in the UK. I realised that the slamming was not because of a lack of consideration but down to the side of the road on which we drive. We do so on the left and as pedestrians we move to the left to avoid the oncoming “traffic”. By contrast the Americans, French and Germans move to the right. Considering the number of people from abroad who now live in Britain, it is no wonder we have lots of collisions here.
Howard Bradley, Bexleyheath, London


Charles Clover is right to highlight the scandal of milk prices paid to dairy farmers (“Asda is pouring away the future of our countryside for 22p a pint”, Comment, last week). Our dairy farmers are hard workers who achieve excellence. For them to be driven to extinction by some supermarkets is unforgivable.
Bruce Morris, Corntown Vale of Glamorgan


Magna Carta was not signed, as suggested by the headline “Sign quickly, Sire. Magna Carta is needed in the 21st century” (News Review, last week). It was sealed by King John.
Patricia Cave-Smith, Salisbury


Surely it would be more apt if the new “spinning studio” at the House of Commons gym was named after Alastair Campbell (“Taxpayer sheds million pounds in MPs’ gym”, News, last week).
Michael Sleight, Castle Donington , Leicestershire


AA Gill’s vicious comments that “all the burgs of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire . . . are the desperate slums of snobbery . . . avarice, envy” are not only irrelevant to a restaurant review, but an insult to the readership of The Sunday Times (“Table Talk”, Magazine, last week).
Alan George, Clare, Suffolk


A number of sources have now been suggested for the “Emma Chizzit” story — that an author signing books in Australia mistook the phrase Emma Chizzit for a dedication request only to find that it was an inquiry about price (“Comedy of errors”, Letters, last week). It happened to neither PD James nor Kenneth Williams: it was indeed Monica Dickens, who mentions it in her autobiography. The exchange was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, with the comment that the plural of emma chizzit must be hammer charthay.
Anne Wellman, Edinburgh


I’ve been without paid work for 56 months since I was made redundant from my marketing manager role (“Uh-oh. O-levels put you over the hill”, News, last week). I applaud what Ros Altmann, the government tsar for older workers, is seeking to achieve. It’s one of the biggest issues facing the UK, that the pre-retirement generation (40-65) are facing a huge squeeze on their career potential with the knock-on effect on their finances when they retire.
Casper Gorniok, Guildford, Surrey


Gallery Tresco is a nice little gallery selling paintings by Cornish artists, but it does not have a “collection” (“The 100 best holidays of 2015 — Painting the Scillies”, Travel, January 11). What you must be thinking of is the Dorrien-Smith family’s excellent Tresco Art Collection of mainly 20th-century Cornish art, including Barbara Hepworth, the Nicholsons and many others, which is dotted about in public spaces.
Helen Anderson, Chester

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times should be addressed to 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.


Princess Charlene of Monaco, 37; John Cooper Clarke, poet, 66; Emma Freud, broadcaster, 53; David Ginola, footballer, 48; Sophie Hosking, rower, 29; Alicia Keys, singer, 34; Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel prize-winning geneticist, 66; Tom Paulin, poet, 66; Robinho, footballer, 31


1533 Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn; 1627 birth of Robert Boyle, physicist; 1759 birth of Robert Burns, poet; 1882 birth of Virginia Woolf, novelist; 1971 Idi Amin overthrows Milton Obote to become president of Uganda; 1981 “Gang of Four” Labour MPs announce plan to set up SDP



David Cameron

David Cameron speaks as part of the Conservative Party’s 2014 European and Local Election campaign Photo: REUTERS

SIR – I entirely agree with Allister Heath that in the run-up to the election the Tories must be more ambitious.

David Cameron made it clear initially that he would give some of his ministers a leading role during the election campaign. This was partly to demonstrate how strong his team is, unlike Ed Miliband’s. It was also to dispel the impression that the Tories are run by a clique in Downing Street, like Blair’s sofa government.

Mr Cameron has listed five main topics that he and George Osborne will cover. This leaves the NHS and education among other areas for ministers to cover. That would allow Jeremy Hunt to make a major contribution on radical reforms to the NHS, as trailed by Francis Maude. It would spike Mr Miliband’s argument that the Tories will simply try to maintain the NHS in its present form (clearly unsustainable).

It would also allow Nicky Morgan to trumpet the success of Michael Gove’s educational reforms and probably announce new academies. The lack of publicity on these matters looks like “staggering ineptitude”, as Peter Oborne has described it.

Martin Greenwood
Fringford, Oxfordshire

SIR – From the rhetoric in the House of Commons it is not easy to discern what the main parties consider the fundamentals on which policy can be built. We appear to be in a game of “Let’s pretend”. A few examples illustrate my concern.

1. Let’s pretend that the budget for the NHS is a bottomless pit.

2. Let’s pretend that the European Union principle of freedom of movement around Europe is sustainable.

3. Let’s pretend that the national debt is not really an issue for our present adult generation.

4. Let’s pretend that we really do support equality and freedom of speech.

5. Let’s pretend that we can place policies in our manifestos, then do things without a mandate once we are in office, and still retain the trust of voters.

Arthur Cornell
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – I trust that David Cameron will now decline to face Prime Minister’s Questions unless Ukip and the Greens receive equal prominence in these.

Keith Wallace
Woodbridge, Suffolk

SIR – Now Russell Brand says he wants to join in pre-election television debates. Is he trying to become the pound-shop version of Screaming Lord Sutch?

Mick Ferrie
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall

SIR – Why not replay the previous election debates? Then we can see who promised what, who keeps promises and what they have achieved in the past five years.

Anne P Wheaton
Meols, Wirral

Making a mess of Libya


SIR – Con Coughlin’s insightful piece did not mention our catastrophic blunder of bombing Gaddafi to destruction.

The dictator, however dire his crimes, had the virtue of giving up, under pressure, his nuclear weapons programme. We rewarded him by stabbing him in the back.

No other would-be nuclear power will trust us now, when we seek to persuade it to abandon its development of WMD.

Andrew M Rosemarine

SIR – The story about Libya goes back a long way.

When I was sent to Malta in 1965, it was our overt policy not to allow any Nasserite faction to take over Libya, where there were British and American airfields and a naval mission and the king was slowly moving into the 20th century.

Then Harold Wilson announced his intention to run the Malta bases down, thus destroying 160 years of credibility and political capital for a net annual saving of £15 million. When Gaddafi sprung his coup in 1969 we had neither the means nor the will to stop him.

John Parfitt
Painswick, Gloucestershire

Paper-free prescribing

SIR – I hope there is no further money to digitise the NHS. The introduction of paper-free prescribing means that we need more nurses on drug rounds, not fewer. Also, as a consultant, I cannot simply pick up a drug chart at the end of a bed to check what has been prescribed by my juniors.

The system is scandalously expensive and not fit for purpose.

David Nunn FRCS
West Malling, Kent

A giveaway plan that would benefit households

SIR – The ECB decided on Thursday to make a cash injection into the financial markets. Wealthier households will gain the most from the exercise. Shares and bond prices will rise and even property prices may benefit. But it is a lengthy process for the benefits of quantitative easing to work through to affect employment and incomes, as the example of the United States has shown.

The reason for this is that the funding of past government expenses does not directly address the problem of household incomes that have been reduced as a consequence of the financial crisis. Household incomes have been influenced by unemployment and a growth in wages less than inflation.

What the ECB did not consider was to use future government revenues as collateral for a different kind of QE. By paying out a fixed cash amount to each individual household for a period of two to three years, consumer demand would have been stimulated, debt servicing would have improved and people on lower incomes would have been made proportionally better off than the wealthier ones.

Dr Kees De Koning
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire

SIR – I attended the World Economic Forum for 10 years to report what happened in Davos. I can’t remember any debate that changed the world or any meaningful international political progress being achieved. A moment that stood out for me was President Jacob Zuma allowing me to have the mangoes from the fruit-bowl in his suite.

Davos provides the banker Klaus Schwab with a profit, and makes everyone feel self-important. Whatever its failings, that is successfully achieved every year.

Stephen Cole
London W5

Churchill remembered

Mourners file past the flag-draped coffin of Winston Churchill during his state funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral, London (Getty Images)

SIR – Fifty years ago, I was one of a small group in a field next to the railway line at Wokingham to see the train go by with Churchill’s coffin on its way to his final resting place at Bladon (Weekend, January 17).

This was after I had given an Encyclopaedia Britannica salesman a flea in his ear for ringing the doorbell while I was watching the funeral on television.

Len Smith
Crowthorne, Berkshire

SIR – Two of Churchill’s failures had positive unintended consequences.

First, his reintroduction of the gold standard at the wrong, uncompetitive rate in 1925 directly caused the general strike the following year, as mine owners reduced wages for their own survival. At considerable cost, by 1931 it had taught the lesson of why we need to avoid currency straitjackets (EU take note).

Secondly, poor intelligence on Turkish strength gave rise to the Gallipoli adventure, which failed, having achieved many casualties on both sides. While Britain lost 34,000 men – three times the casualties of either France or the Anzac force – the slaughter contributed to generally positive nationalism in Australia and New Zealand, and a positive post-war change in Turkey. The Turkish casualties were at least as great as the full Allied list; victory at such cost weakened Turkey elsewhere, leading to its new, Western-orientated nationalism under Atatürk, the victor of Gallipoli. Churchill’s campaign re-focused Turkey and kept it out of the Second World War.

Ultimately, Churchill’s tactical defeats were, at huge cost, strategic victories. We must heed the lessons.

Tim Langhorn
Guildford, Surrey

The eyes have it

SIR – Far from being uncomfortable, the English monocle fits snugly and securely into the eye socket, provided the diameter is correct.

I once amazed a sceptical acquaintance by standing on my head for five minutes and moving my head vigorously in every possible direction, without my monocle ever threatening to become dislodged.

An additional bonus is the attention it elicits from the fairer sex – I met my dear wife while sporting my monocle, and she maintains it made me irresistibly attractive.

John Holland

Casting a gentler light on historical drama

Interior lives: Kubrick used special camera lenses to film indoor scenes of ‘Barry Lyndon’ (Alamy)

SIR – The candlelit opening episode of Wolf Hall, wonderfully photographed by Gavin Finney, reminded me of working as one of the production managers on Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon (1975).

Kubrick, who was renowned for exact detail in his sets, had purchased camera lenses from Nasa for his earlier production, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). These lenses enabled him to illuminate his interior sets on Barry Lyndon by candle light, giving a certain authenticity to the 18th-century setting.

Hugh Harlow
Kingsbridge, Devon

SIR – If Wolf Hall, filmed by candlelight, is too dark to see, try pouring a stiff drink and turning off the room lights. All will be revealed – but don’t kick the dog when manoeuvring.

Chris Myatt
Stone, Staffordshire

Licence to time-waste

SIR – I was not surprised to read of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency making arbitrary decisions to revoke licences. Following surgery to remove a brain tumour, I surrendered my licence voluntarily only to have it revoked five months later. The process of re-application took over seven months due to “the need for extensive medical assessments”, which turned out to be a box-ticking exercise on a form sent to my consultant oncologist.

Martin Hughes
Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire

Coat check

SIR – In the Sixties I had a gambling boyfriend who regularly took me to Annabel’s. He would go upstairs, leaving me with a brandy and coffee. When he returned, we would have a smooch round the floor.

One night as we left, the cloakroom attendants produced the most beautiful full-length mink coat. I put it on and did a twirl, finding a lovely silk scarf in a pocket, then said: “Sadly this is not my coat.” You can imagine the look on their faces.

They went away and produced my trusty old tweed. That was the nearest I ever got to owning a mink. He was not the type to buy mink coats, but he did introduce me to my husband.

Jennifer Harrison
London SW1

Manners maketh coffee

SIR – How does one judge if a person has good breeding? Accent? Clothes? Shoes? Car? Try looking at the state of the table after he or she leaves a coffee house.

Dr Lawrence Green
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire


Globe and Mail:


Harper and Obama: two leaders, two mentalities

Here are some quotes from U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address:

  • “We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions.”
  • “We still need … a higher minimum wage.”
  • “Free community college is possible.”
  • “Let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.”
  • “Let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top 1 per cent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth.”
  • “No challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

Could any Canadian imagine Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying such things? If Mr. Harper were a U.S. legislator, he would have been sitting in the House of Representatives chamber with the sullen-looking Republicans. The Republicans might have chosen Senator or Congressman Harper to deliver their critical reply to the President’s address.

Two men with two very different ideas of government are in charge in the United States and Canada, one difference being that most of Mr. Obama’s progressive ideas have been and will remain dead on arrival in Congress, whereas Mr. Harper, as prime minister of a majority government in a parliamentary system, can put his ideas into practice.

The Obama-Harper dichotomy is not the first time U.S. presidents and Canadian prime ministers have been on completely different philosophical pages. Richard Nixon and Pierre Trudeau were hardly political soulmates. Nor were Jean Chrétien and George W. Bush.

Different domestic priorities, and even different views on the role of government, do not necessarily lead to conflicts over foreign policy or bilateral dust-ups.

Nor do good personal relationships at the top necessarily smooth all difficulties, but on balance, they do help. Alas, by every account – from U.S. and Canadian sources – there isn’t much goodwill between Mr. Obama and Mr. Harper.

As the State of the Union shows, Mr. Obama is a U.S. liberal and Mr. Harper is a Canadian conservative. That the two men stress different priorities domestically doesn’t matter much, but they can lead to conflict.

Mr. Obama, for example, believes in the seriousness of climate change, whereas Mr. Harper does not, a clash that has shaped their dispute over the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Harper government has allowed that one pipeline to excessively define the state of bilateral relations. A grievance mentality has settled over the Harper government because of Keystone XL, which Mr. Obama obviously opposes, although no final decision has been rendered.

The grievance mentality is deepened by the sense that the Americans have given nothing in return for Canadian participation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the venue Canada provided for the U.S.-Cuba talks. Things have improved a bit, but they got so bad a while ago that the U.S. ambassador to Canada had to get Prime Minister’s Office’s approval for meetings with cabinet ministers.

With political optics defining almost everything in Ottawa, the Harper government dreaded a late-February meeting in Canada featuring Mr. Harper, Mr. Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Planning had been proceeding until the Harper government abruptly announced it was pushing back the meeting until some unspecified later date.

What Ottawa dreaded was the public airing, on Canadian soil, of disputes over Keystone XL and Canadian visa requirements on Mexicans. This would not have looked good, since it would have underscored how clumsily the Harper government has played both files.

Since neither Mr. Harper nor Mr. Obama has a serious agenda for North America, and since the Mexican and U.S. presidents recently met in Washington, why even have a meeting? Normally, the leader of the smaller country (Canada) would want some face time with the leader of the superpower (the United States), but not now, and not with this prime minister.

Mr. Obama is now what Americans call a “lame duck” president in the last quarter of his eight years in office. Like all presidents, he has one eye on the present and one on the history books. His progressive agenda outlined in the State of the Union reflected this bifocal situation.

Mr. Obama must be saying to himself, given what he faces in Congress, “let me be judged by what I wanted to accomplish, rather than by what I did.” Whether history will agree with that prism remains, by definition, unknown.


The rich do get richer. Why can’t the poor also get richer?


Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Published 25/01/2015 | 02:30

The banks of the River Fane.
The banks of the River Fane.

Sir – Congratulations to your reporter Jim Cusack for his excellent article on the polluting Provos (Sunday Independent, 18 Jan 2015).

  • Go To

He says the Provos and their bedfellows are dumping toxic waste into the river Fane from their thriving fuel laundering and petrol stretching plants in south Armagh.

Several of their plants have been uncovered but those who operate them remain immune to identification and prosecution. I wonder why?

The dogs in the streets know who these thugs are.

In the seaside village of Blackrock last year the stench of rotting slime washed in on every tide had everyone complaining.

Louth County Council spent thousands vainly scraping up this slime only to see it arrive back in on the next tide.

Bleating about how interfering with these retired Provo thugs might have them digging up their guns again, should not deter the course of the law.

Have the councils, Customs, Police and Inland Revenue not got the bottle to move against these thugs and resolve this pollution problem which is costing the country millions?

Micheal McKeown.


Co Louth

We must value what we have

Sir – Dan O’Brien’s article (Sunday Independent, 11 January), on the Paris attacks was one that all who live in the Western world should read.

These Islamo-fascist killers get far too much attention and their views are pathetic and laughable. They have as much chance of conquering our world as I have of swimming unaided to the bottom of the ocean. The real problem within Islam is two factions created in the 19th and 20th centuries – Wahhabism and Salafism – in reaction to western colonisation.

These puritanical extremists have basically created a cult of hatred, resentment and death. They offer nothing only destruction. It is the equivalent of a religion for the sort of people who shoot up schools and former workplaces. Only last week a Wahhabist cleric in Saudi Arabia pronounced playing with snow and building snowmen “unIslamic”. We need to laugh at these people a lot more.

We should also appreciate much more our tolerant and successful western societies. There are successful progressive Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

Our governments should also get serious about banning W and S Muslims from living in and visiting our countries.

As the Mayor of Rotterdam – Ahmed Aboutelab – put it last week – “if you don’t like tolerance then f**k off. Go live in the paradise that is ISIS-land and leave the rest of us to cope with the 21st Century.”

Gerry Kelly,


Dublin 6

SF did condemn Paris atrocity

Sir – In relation to the letter published in the Sunday Independent on 18 January, “SF silence on Paris was overwhelming’, SF were one of the first political parties to condemn the horrific acts perpetuated in Paris.

On the following Monday night at the Dublin City Council meeting SF had a motion passed to affirm its support of free press and freedom of expression, as fundamental to our democratic values.

Ciaran O Moore,

Dublin City Councillor

Remembering the WP marches

Sir – Rose McNeive’s letter last week deplored the lack of marches in Ireland protesting about the terrorism inflicted during the troubles.

Can she not recall the role of The Workers’ Party which consistently condemned atrocity after atrocity and whose members died in the defence of democracy?

Eddie Walsh,

The Workers’ Party (Britain)


United Kingdom

Time for us all to wake up

Sir – I feel so annoyed that I have to put pen to paper. Reading your paper and listening to the morning radio programmes leaves me so hopeless.

I hear Mr Gerry Adams telling us how he would run our country. Into the ground is the truth, with his hare-brained budgeting and cracked policies. I never heard anybody in RTE put him in his place.

While the world grieved for the slaughter in Paris , I noticed scant sympathy or condemnation from Sinn Fein. But then the IRA was responsible for the slaughter of so many innocent people, including my relation, Det Garda Jerry McCabe.

And it’s not so long ago that Mr Adams joked about enforcing his preferred editorial line in a newspaper at the point of a gun.

Wake up Ireland before we sleepwalk into a quagmire .

Una Heaton,


Doctors and drug companies do good

Sir, – Tony O’Brien, chief of the HSE, has sought a report into the private funding of senior doctors at Connolly hospital (Sunday Independent, 18 January).

According to the article by Maeve Sheehan, a HSE spokesman admitted the funding arrangement “raised concerns.”

But a subsequent statement on behalf of the hospital made it clear that the grants provided by Abbvie, MSD, Pfizer and Roche were to facilitate both clinical services and clinical service research. It added; “During the pilot, the benefits of the rheumatology registrar post were realised and the post will be funded by Connolly Hospital from February 2015. ”

My question to the concerned director general of the HSE is this: Would the stretched resources of his unwieldy organisation have been made available to cover the costs involved in Connolly Hospital’s very worthwhile, patient friendly, project? And isn’t a working relationship, including available strategic grants, between pharmaceutical companies and senior hospital doctors, a major plus for both patients and doctors, at a time when the HSE is on it’s knees?

Mr O’Brien should direct his “concerns” and immediate attention to the suffocating bureaucracy that renders the HSE unfit for purpose. Unlike the HSE, senior hospital doctors and pharmaceutical companies have a proud record of success.

Niall Ginty,


Dublin 5

Who filmed Stephanie’s goal?

Sir – I enjoyed Niamh Horan’s excellent article (Sunday Independent, 18 January).

Stephanie’s wonderful goal has deservedly been acknowledged worldwide. There were approximately 95 people attending the game in question so there was obviously no official camera man on duty.

I am absolutely amazed that the person who captured the ‘magic moment’ has neither had their name mentioned nor any acknowledgement made (unless I have missed it). Surely the person deserves that courtesy?

Tony Finucane,


Co Clare

Rivers not running so free now

Sir- In 1973 Mickey McConnell wrote the song Only Our Rivers Run Free. To quote O’ Casey’s Fluther: “It’s visa versa now”.

The political landscape has changed utterly, but some of the rivers do not run free – at least not free of polycyclic hydrocarbons (Sunday Independent, 18 January) and God knows what else!

Apparently, individuals who once masqueraded as patriots morphed into purveyors of black market petroleum and diesel.

The diesel is laundered by a process that, by any stretch of the imagination, could not be termed environmentally friendly. While these erstwhile freedom fighter get filthy rich, the North’s economy is defrauded of £80m a year in revenue and the health of people north and south of the border is endangered in this “cross border initiative”.

What do the self- proclaimed tree hugger Gerry Adams and the keen fly fisherman Martin McGuinness have to say about this environmental catastrophe?

Nothing, actually.

Well it’s certainly a new twist to the slogan Tiocfaidh ar la.

Jim O’Connell,

Dubin 7

Charlie, the champ of consumers

Sir – Why is Charlie Weston tucked away in the Business Section of the Sunday Independent every week?

He continually exposes the sharp practices of the corporate and governmental sector, and deserves a wider audience in the main newspaper.

He is a true consumer champion.

Arthur O’Donnell,

Dublin 17

Electricity costs must be simplified

Sir – I congratulate Nick Webb, Sarah McCabe and Charlie Weston for their articles on our crazy energy policy (Sunday Independent, 18 January).

I have been part of a group campaigning for a re-think on the State’s extravagant plans on energy, for at least five years. Consumers are bound into paying premium prices for monopolies of gas and electricity. The mechanisms by which electricity is paid for is worked out with the electricity market’s own uniquely complex system.

I met the Regulator, the Minister and submitted several Freedom of Information requests but I still can’t understand it. Unless we can understand this accounting system, we cannot form a judgement and we cannot know if we are getting value.

Val Martin,

European Platform Against Wind Farms, Cavan Town

Charlie will be well regarded

Sir – Free speech or none, I believe some of the remarks of Gene Kerrigan regarding the late Charlie Haughey were unjustified and rash (Sunday Independent, 18 January).

He certainly wasn’t any more ‘old bastard’ than some who succeeded him. Neither, was RTE 1 within its right to screen the three Sunday night shows. His wife Maureen is still alive: as are his three sons, daughter and their families, all held in high esteem in their professions and respective communities.

As a young politician Charles Haughey was one of the most elegant orators I ever heard. He had the typical ambition and entrepreneurial spirit of his reformer father-in-law – Sean Lemas. Without asking any questions, being an egotist and because of the exalted opinion Charlie had of himself, everything had to be ‘grand’. He brought this grandeur and prestige to the country through his gracious life-style, which impressed princes, sheiks, heads of state, ambassadors and diplomats, leading to additional foreign trade and employment.

The Tribunals and other happenings in later years cast Haughey in an unsavoury light from which he never fully recovered. Nevertheless, he will be remembered for the many good things, too – from passing food vouchers to the poor of Dublin, implementing free travel for pensioners, and, against all the odds, getting Knock airport up-and-running and sowing the seeds for the golden Celtic Tiger era.

James Gleeson, Thurles,

Co Tipperary

Haughey fans could be scary

Sir – In this country, Charlie Haughey was God, particularly in rural Ireland. I remember on one occasion, in one of our local pubs here in Glenties, on a youthful drinking session in the 1980s, a discussion on Charlie was in progress, and my mentioning, very naively of course, that he maybe was “a bit of a gangster”.

Suddenly, the silence in the pub was just deafening, and a bit scary. So, I left the pub quietly, and went home to my lovely wife a little earlier than I anticipated.

Brian Mc Devitt,


Co Donegal

Haughey admirers are wrong

Sir – What struck me most about the articles from Gillian Bowler, Willie O’Dea and Martin Mansergh last week was the depth of denial all three of them are in about the Charlie Haughey or Terry Keane they knew.

Ms Bowler doesn’t seem to have an opinion on the fact that the lifestyle Ms Keane enjoyed with ‘Sweetie’ was paid for from taxpayer funds. To read Mr O’Dea’s piece, you’d be forgiven for thinking he and his Gang of 22 were some white shining knights. In fact they were the other side of the same coin to Mr Haughey and his supporters.

But the best piece was by Martin Mansergh, whose depth of delusion would be funny were it not so tragic.

Like the good servant he is, there is no piece of evidence that will ever shake his loyalty to his masters. The three writers each seem to think that because Haughey did some good things as a minister – which he did – the bad he did can be ignored.

It is wrong to pander to such delusions as it implies there were no consequences or that it didn’t impact on anyone else.

Desmond FitzGerald,


Good luck Charlie, you were full of it

Sir – Last Sunday saw the final instalement of RTE’s blockbuster series Charlie (yawn).

Nothing of any consequence was revealed in it. CJ was full of his own importance, liking nothing more than to bully, harass, insult and berate his sycophantic colleagues. He didn’t like paying too much tax if he could help it.

But at the end of the day, if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.

RIP Charlie, you lovable rogue.

Vincent O’Connell,

New Ross,

Co Wexford


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