THE decision by the Tayside chief constable, John Vine, to apologise for his joke about al Qaeda suicide bombers is another blow to freedom of speech in this country.

Mr Vine was the after-dinner speaker at the Perth Bar Association. As anyone who has been a guest speaker or attended similar events knows, jokes are an expected part of the address, usually the more risque the better.

The reaction to Mr Vine's joke has been wholly out of proportion. The politically-correct profession has jumped all over the incident and it has been aided by opportunistic politicians seeking personal publicity.

Most disappointing of all has been Mr Vine's decision to apologise. He should have said: "I am not apologising. I have done nothing wrong. It was a joke - that's all. I have more important things to worry about and so should you."

The politically-correct lobby causes harm to precisely the people it is trying to support. The reaction to Mr Vine's comments adds to the impression that Middle Eastern people are po-faced, have thin skins and lack a sense of humour.

My experience of Muslims is exactly the opposite. The ones I know have a keen sense of fun and can tell the difference between a harmless afterinner joke and a racist comment intended to cause offence. Mr Vine let the many sensible Scottish Muslims down by apologising.

Stewart Whyte, 25 Crombie Acres, Westhill, Aberdeenshire.