Nick Hayes is right that we should not be barred from so much of the countryside of England (“Forgive us our trespasses”, the New Review). But not everyone can trespass as energetically as he does, and unlawful activity might ease the path of government plans to criminalise trespass. We need legal certainty that everybody can visit land harmlessly without fearing an ugly confrontation with a landowner.
In England and Wales, a right to roam exists only over a few types of terrain extending to about 10% of the land surface. Few people understand which bits of countryside they are allowed to visit or why they should be excluded from the remainder. We need a right of access on foot to the whole of our countryside. Exceptions can be made to ensure that growing crops are not trampled, the surroundings of people’s homes are not disturbed and sensitive wildlife sites are not disrupted. Something along these lines already works well in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Scotland. It is time England, Wales and Northern Ireland caught up.
In the article about Nick Hayes, there was not a single reference to the 140,000 miles of public rights of way over mostly private land in England and Wales, nor to the 3.4m acres of right-to-roam land in England created by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. To this should also be added the extensive permissive public access voluntarily provided by many farmers, landowners and conservation bodies. Ownership of the countryside, and public access to it, are two separate issues and to conflate them is misleading. The main barriers to countryside access are the lack of an Ordnance Survey map and walking boots.
Nick Cohen outlines clearly the erosion of prisoners’ rights (“The loss of UK prisoners’ rights is the forgotten injustice of Covid-19”, Comment). However, he misses out one group of prisoners who should be given extra safeguards and protections but whose rights have been further eroded. The government has changed the rules governing secure training centres – privately run establishments supposedly providing care for younger and more vulnerable children in custody.
The most significant of these changes is that children need only be outside their rooms for one and a half hours in any 24-hour period. In effect, this means that children can be locked in a single room with no education, no one to talk to and no significant exercise for almost the whole of the day and night. Whilst the government says this has been implemented as a response to the pandemic, it is of interest to note that the expiry date is not until March 2022. At a time when we are all concerned for children’s mental health, it is iniquitous that the government should do this to some of the most vulnerable children, most of whom will have already experienced abuse and deprivation.
Pam Hibbert, End Child Imprisonment
Llangammarch Wells, Powys
I write as the son of a soldier who was captured at Singapore in 1942 and used as slave labour on the Burma railway. Thank God he came back alive – many thousands of his POW compatriots did not. In my view, Kenan Malik’s article on the atomic bombing of Japan takes a narrow view of the situation facing the allies in 1945 (“Don’t let the victors define morality – Hiroshima was always indefensible”, Comment).
Despite the horrendous military and civilian casualties suffered by the Japanese in 1945, they showed no real inclination to surrender. Even the firebombing of Tokyo did not sway them. That they might have surrendered eventually is pure speculation. As the allies closed in from Burma, my father said that the Japanese guards at his POW camp forced the prisoners to dig large pits, presumably to be used as mass graves for the POWs once the allies approached. In my view the atomic bombs were a ghastly but essential way to make the Japanese rulers finally see sense. I doubt if I would be here to write this article otherwise.
We produced Granada TV’s 1985 film End of Empire: Iran mentioned in your article (“The British spy, a coup that changed the Middle East – and the cover-up”, News, 2 August). The article suggested that interview material for our film was “censored” by government. It was not. Our film was the first to publicly reveal the policy of the British government and MI6 to promote and help organise the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh.
The film contained the testimony of British officials and politicians who admitted – often with pride – their role in secretly funding the opposition to Mossadegh and pushing the British cabinet under both Attlee and Churchill to endorse a coup d’etat. Britain’s motive was to install a puppet regime that would reverse Mossadegh’s nationalisation of Iranian oil and keep it in British hands. Our witnesses included the chargé d’affaires in Tehran, George Middleton, embassy official Sam Falle, Iran desk officials Peter Ramsbotham and Dennis Logan and Conservative MP Julian Amery.
British diplomats were expelled from Iran in 1952 for spying. In our film, embassy official Sam Falle describes accompanying Anthony Eden to the US to persuade the new Eisenhower administration to put CIA resources behind the coup. It told how MI6 and CIA operatives paid provocateurs to infiltrate peaceful protests with violence so that international newsreels could praise the military coup for restoring “law and order” in Iran.
As part of our research, we held an off-the-record conversation with MI6 agent Norman Darbyshire on condition of anonymity but did not film the interview. The notes of this conversation were shared with the Observer, which previewed the film the day before it was shown on 26 May 1985 under the headline “How MI6 and CIA joined forces to plot Iran coup”. It explained: “The MI6 man will not be seen as he declined to be filmed to protect his anonymity. His evidence provides background for building up the picture of how the Foreign Office and MI6 managed to draw the Americans into the plot to overthrow Mossadegh.”
The new documentary, Coup 53, dramatises the character of Darbyshire with the help of our notes. Darbyshire’s refusal to speak on camera was standard policy for MI6 agents then as now. In 2013, the US National Security Archives released its Iran files and this has allowed writers and filmmakers to start to shed even more light on what CIA and MI6 agents did on the ground in Iran.
This research still doesn’t come easy because governments like to keep these things secret. But if we in Britain are to have an honest debate about the legacy of the British empire, the stories of what was done illegally and secretly in the Middle East by our politicians, government officials and MI6 must be told.
Alison Rooper and Mark Anderson
Kadish Morris’s feature is articulate and eloquent (“Poetry saved me. Let’s not deny its joys to the next generation”, Focus). Many of us loved poetry when we were children, and this remains with us all our lives, opening our eyes to beauty and stimulating our imagination.
Morris quotes from a report by the English-exam regulator, Ofqual, in its case for giving GCSE students the option to drop poetry due to “difficulties for students in trying to get to grips with complex literary texts remotely”. Surely we should encourage students at all levels to tackle concepts which seem difficult at first. Understanding is the reward of effort.