Not fair on cops
Sir: Nick Cohen (‘PCs gone mad’, 26 October) claims that the police are deliberately attacking the press and fundamental liberties because, in light of the overall reduction in crime, they are now underemployed and ‘many are surplus to requirements’. This is an inventive conspiracy theory by any standards, but lacking any link to plausibility.
In 2006, as the head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch, I called a halt to the first phone-hacking investigation because we had other priorities such as the 7/7 and 21/7 attacks, and stopping the killing of several thousand people with liquid bombs on aircraft over the Atlantic. We really did have better things to do. The later furore over the police’s slowness to reopen the hacking investigation is why journalists are now being investigated.
Yet now, bizarrely, Mr Cohen claims that because crime has dropped, fewer police are needed, so they have turned to hounding journalists to protect their jobs and pensions. Now that his work is done in filling up our prisons to record levels, Constable Machiavelli can turn to what he really joined the force to do — persecuting ‘tabloid journalists and politically incorrect users of social media’.
The only reason the police are now investigating journalists is because of public and political outrage at the abject failure of the media to adhere to the law, regulate themselves or act towards victims of crime with common decency. Sorry Mr Cohen, but there’s no conspiracy.
Former Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police,
Walton on Thames, Surrey
Sir: Nick Cohen’s article may be a passionate defence of free speech but his attack on policing is wide of the mark.
The police are not idle. The Met Police take over five million calls a year, which hardly suggests they are not busy. In fact the police are being stretched in all directions. Up to half of a frontline officer’s time is now spent dealing with people who have mental health issues, or looking for missing persons. The police have a duty to safeguard life but we cannot afford to have them become an extension of the town hall’s social services department or step in for community mental health provision. Cops have a duty to maintain public order but there should not be an open-ended obligation to steward private events.
The police must also fight crime, and despite it halving since 1995 — with crime in London now falling faster than the rest of the country — crime demand is changing, with a huge growth in online infringements like fraud. We do have to guard against mission creep, but fortunately the Met has neither the desire nor the resources to police the social attitudes of teenage Twitter users.
With pressure on policing budgets, the Met is responding by putting more effort into the core Peelian mission of crime prevention, recruiting more bobbies and putting 2,600 extra cops into visible neighbourhood teams.
A robust defence of journalism does not merit such an ill-judged attack on those who do the most to keep the public safe.
Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime,
City Hall, London SE1
Mind your language
Sir: The Spectator has a history of free-thinking, of which I’m proud to be a small part, but I don’t think that insulting gypsies is a great way of deploying the hard-won freedom of the press (Rod Liddle, 26 October). Would you use the same language about black people, for instance, or Jewish people? I hope not. The word ‘pikey’ is offensive, it has hurt and upset people. It’s ignorant at the very best and at the worst, it’s racist. Please tell Rod Liddle it’s really quite easy to find the right word for gypsies and travellers. Indeed I did a quick run-down of more acceptable words in my own article about gypsies in this magazine.
Sir: Charles Moore tells us (Notes, 26 October) of his longing as a child to be abducted by the raggle-taggle gypsies. It seems his parents must have been blissfully unaware of the old nursery rhyme beginning ‘My mother said I never should, play with the gypsies in the wood.’ Running away to the circus might have proved safer!
The artist’s model
Sir: I’m pleased to be able to answer the question vexing so many devotees of the art of Malcolm Morley: is the Red Arrows Hawk cut-and-paste model buildable? The answer is yes, despite a few minor drafting errors and the need for local reinforcement. As to whether it is art: perhaps, but don’t ask a discerning ten-year-old, who would prefer the Airfix kit.
Richard Falconer, RIBA
Sir: Roger Franklin is spot on in identifying the green stupidity of local councils in Australia (Bushfire Notebook, 26 October). I have a house in the current fire zone, in the Blue Mountains. A few years ago, I applied to the council to remove two trees. Both were within a few metres of the house, and hence a fire hazard. One was growing through power lines (fallen power lines are a regular cause of bushfires), while the roots of the other were destroying the foundations of my neighbour’s house.
I eventually received permission to remove the trees, on one condition — that I replace the removed trees by planting identical trees in the same locations. In other words, rather than rectifying the problem, the council wanted me to repeat it. The reason, I was told, was that the trees formed part of the ‘streetscape’ and it would detract from the visual amenity of my street if people could no longer see trees where they had once seen them.
Needless to say, this week, the streetscape in several parts of the Blue Mountains is largely one of charred tree trunks and blackened house foundations.
Epping, New South Wales
Sir: I could not agree more with Roger Franklin. Some years ago there was a disastrous fire on Table Mountain which destroyed a lot of property. The South African government then, very sensibly, instituted a programme of regular burning; there has not been a problem since, while rare plants such as the silver tree now thrive again. In northern California, since botanists realised that the redwood needs fire to germinate, regular burnings in the forests have also been carried out with excellent results. So why can’t they do it in southern California, not to mention south-east Australia?
Boom time in Botswana
Sir: From 1966 to 1969 I was district commissioner for the northern Kalahari and controlled access to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the subject of Christopher Booker’s ‘The battle of the bushmen’ (26 October). The only borehole in the reserve had been installed by the colonial government while it carried out an in-depth survey of bushmen’s needs. When their research officer left, the starter handle was removed since the bushmen needed no artificial water supply. Furthermore, since they hunted with bow and arrow there was no reason to exclude them from a designated game reserve.
In the last 40 years Botswana’s population has trebled and the Kalahari has been networked with tarred roads. In the same period the bushmen have acquired both livestock and firearms. It may have been the needs of eco-tourism and diamond mining that prompted Sir Ian Khama to clear the reserve of illegal intruders, but his duty must be to ensure that Botswana’s resources are managed sustainably and for the good of the population as a whole. This is hardly possible if a major wildlife sanctuary is being steadily destroyed by overgrazing and uncontrolled hunting.
The need for special settlement areas for bushmen was recognised in my time and the district council made recommendations for settlement sites outside the reserve. It surely behoves Survival International to campaign for improvements to education and medical facilities outside the reserve rather than go to war with the Botswana government.
Whatever the conditions at New Xade resettlement camp, its residents are free to leave. Their problem is that of the travellers in England. This is a dispute about access to land, not about human rights.
Counting the cost of CO2
Sir: Matt Ridley’s article ‘Climate change is good for the world’ (19 October) draws heavily on one paper by the climate economist Richard Tol, claiming that it supports his view that climate change would be beneficial. But Tol’s paper also contains a review of all the impacts, good as well as bad. It shows that for every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted today, the mean negative impacts outweigh the benefits by about $55, using the Treasury’s discount rate to bring them all back to the present day. Under the ‘polluter pays’ principle, this is the price that should be attached to all emissions of carbon dioxide today, preferably via a comprehensive carbon tax.
Does Matt Ridley agree that the current price on all emissions of carbon dioxide should be at least $55 per tonne, as Richard Tol’s mean results show? If not, why not?
Dr Chris Hope
Cambridge Judge Business School
University of Cambridge
Sir: By citing the number of experts he is relying on and then invoking the oracle of Thatcher to defend the government’s policy on climate change, Greg Barker (Letters, 26 October) has shot himself in the foot. His approach has the effect first of reminding us that once she had looked into the facts of climate change for herself, Lady Thatcher reversed her opinion. We then remember that when in 1981 she was up against 364 experts warning her of catastrophe, she had the intelligence and courage to make her own mind up. Finally, we compare, somewhat to his disadvantage, him with her.
Lost for words
Sir: I have always held Charles Moore in high regard and very much enjoy his columns, so I was especially delighted to read in Notes (19 October) that he cannot think of anything to say on Twitter. My opinion of this mindless form of public communication would be quite unprintable in your magazine.
Lahitte Toupière, France
Jagger gone viral
Sir: Mick Jagger generally makes shrewd investment decisions. However, following The Spectator revelations (‘Rise of the man-hug’, 19 October) of his use of antibacterial hand gel as a prophylactic against catching the common cold, perhaps someone should advise him that this is a strategy with a near-zero return on the investment. The common cold is a viral infection, not a bacterial one.
On the other hand (so to speak), Her Majesty’s investment in gloves is entirely rational.
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