AS someone who formerly worked in the field, I found Neil Mackay's article, which was based on interviews with prison reformers Dr Frances Crook and Professor Richard Sparks, the best I have ever read on the persistent failings of our criminal justice system ("Why Scotland’s ‘absolutely grim’ prison system shames us all", The Big Read, October 24).

Finally, longstanding truths are being openly acknowledged which had me stomping out of meetings 30 years ago. Nothing has changed, as both academics confirmed. Lessons are not being learned; "over-sentencing", not "overcrowding", is the central issue which must be addressed; offender-types are incarcerated who shouldn't be, etc. But it was not only prisons that were in the dock: "We have a class-based justice system. It's poverty we imprison," Dr Crook acerbically observed.

However, surely the most damning indictment of how those who appear before our courts are treated was discussed within Mr Mackay's section "Vulnerability". Both academics agreed that our prisons are perceived, rightly, as being softer options than psychiatric hospitals for those in distress. Prisoners are afraid of being "nutted", said Prof Sparks candidly – jargon for being sectioned under mental health legislation. "Given the choice I'd prefer prison to a mental hospital," Dr Crook tellingly conceded.

Is that where we are within this Great Age of Mental Health Enlightenment? A place where psychiatric hospitals remain more punitive and feared than prisons? Where is the parity of esteem with physical health in that?

Our politicians no longer have any excuses. They have two choices only. Either they can petition for longer sentences for more offences, hoping that is the best route to secure their re-election. Or they can prioritise what works over what is popular.

A third option of posing as inept zoologists – knowing which egg is which, but feigning shock when they hatch year upon year – is no longer open to them. When certain chickens come home to roost with unerring inevitability, it is time to invest in a. fresh strain of avian livestock.

Archie Beaton, Inverness.


DR John Cameron (Letters, October 24) writes: “The astronomical cost of net zero is crippling economies. If we want to protect our future we need to put our industries and way of life first.”

This nonsense is precisely why our young people are constantly having to come out of school to stick themselves to roads, chain themselves to buildings, invent new slogans to make people understand one thing: there is no economy on a dead planet, there is no Planet B.

Greta Thunberg is absolutely right, too many years of Blah Blah Blah, and constantly fighting global corporations who with their greenwash are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the general public, and not enough action. I have been an environmental activist for 40 years. I wake up every day thinking I’m in Groundhog Day. Too much same old, same old. As the young people chant, “Hey hey, ho ho, climate change has got to go!”

Margaret Forbes, Kilmacolm.


I NOTE Iain Macwhirter’s article in which he suggests that the $100 billion per year for the global south to decarbonise (International Climate Finance – ICF) will be “finally delivered”, not all rich nations having met their obligations to date (“Some reasons to be cheerful about COP26. There are some….”, October 24).

Although we are assured by Alok Sharma, who will preside over COP26, that the rich nations’ ICF obligations will be met by 2023, more than two-thirds of the ICF given so far is by way of loans.

And so, as the Jubilee Debt Campaign points out, by 2025 the 34 countries covered in their research will be spending seven times more on debt payments than on limiting the impacts of climate change. The campaign rightly insists that in Glasgow the wealthy polluting nations need to cancel existing debt and to provide ICF through grants, not loans.

It is obvious that the West’s chickens are coming home to roost, these chickens having been raised within our current economic systems which encourage growth and yet more growth, way beyond the limits of Earth’s ability to handle.

However I cannot see any UK electorate, for instance, giving a mandate to a government which proposed to prevent our gross over-consumption, even if such disruption is necessary to save the future for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren. Such is our captivity to a form of capitalism for which we were told “there is no alternative”.

John Milne, Uddingston.


THE Prince of Wales has told how his grandson Prince George is learning about climate change and how global warming was causing "big storms, floods, droughts, fires and food shortages". For goodness sake, he is only eight years old. Will he be told that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has repeatedly said that it had low confidence that global warming had any impact on the frequency or severity of floods, that hurricanes, tornadoes and tropical storms show a decreasing trend and that droughts were less severe?

Prince Charles should tell Prince George that the 2006 Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth contained nine scientific errors and that a UK judge said it was unfit for schools because it was politically biased and that teachers should point out the controversial or disputed sections. One part said that sea levels would rise by 20 feet "in the very near future". Prince George could ask his grandfather when the remaining 19 feet 11.5 inches will happen and when the Maldives will sink below the waves.

Clark Cross, Linlithgow.


BARRIE Cunning’s article ("Government could make up UC shortfall if it really wanted", October 24) demanding that the Scottish Government, with miniscule borrowing and limited taxation powers, should make up the Universal Credit shortfall highlights the limitations of Labour’s vision for Scotland, as this is just the latest example of the Scottish Government having to mitigate bad policy decisions made by a UK Government we don’t vote for.

We can’t wait until Labour has won over middle England and the prospect of any real change in the UK is not good when Sir Keir Starmer asked his employment rights secretary Andy McDonald to go and argue against a national minimum wage of £15 per hour. The Labour front bench also refused to support Gavin Newland’s Fire and Re-hire Bill, obviously adhering to the Bain Principle of not voting for SNP motions.

Gordon Brown’s Labour Government had 13 years to set up a public energy company to help with fuel bills at a time when it earned more than £100 billion from Scotland’s oil and gas revenues.

The SNP is spending hundreds of millions every year mitigating UK Government welfare cuts. In addition to providing 1,140 hours of free early learning and childcare, the Scottish Government has helped thousands of low-income families across Scotland through progressive policies including the Best Start Grants, Best Start Foods, Scottish Child Payment, School Clothing Grant and free school meals.

Such support in tackling poverty is far superior to anything offered by the Labour Government in Wales but until Scotland has the full range of taxation and economic powers of a normal independent country in order to tackle poverty, we can’t complete the job.

Mary Thomas, Edinburgh.


HALLOWEEN is here and dooking for apples, guising, lit turnip lanterns, witches hats, spiders' webs and so on should ward off evil spirits. It is all far removed from the 16th and 17th century witch hunts. Here in Fife 5,000 women were hunted down, strangled, burned alive or drowned in the Forth. They endured witch pricking and sleep deprivation. We kid ourselves that Scotland today is one of the most progressive and rational places on Earth. But are we really a beacon of liberalism?

Senior police officers express increasing concern regarding the present-day witch hunts of paedophiles, real and imagined.Are they really any different from the Scottish witch trials given their national psychosis and paranoia?

Today Wolfpack Hunters are a menace for the police and the bane of Scottish courts. These individuals see themselves as vigilante groups aiding the police, but not only are they involved in entrapment, there have been numerous reports of tragic mistaken identity, blackmail, mob violence, suicide due to wrong online exposure, with, sometimes, thousands watching a live stream on Facebook. The illuminated smartphone has replaced the burning torch and pitchfork.

Court cases collapse, to the frustration of a sheriff, because there is insufficient evidence or they have jeopardised or ruined police surveillance or an investigation. Sometimes the child victim used in the entrapment is a decoy with a made-up WhatsApp identity and consequently there was no victim.

Those targeted have had to be taken into protective custody after an angry mob appeared outside someone's home and there is anecdotal evidence of a paediatrician suffering this fate. The coverage on ambivalent Facebook can lead to hundreds of comments suggesting murder, torture, fire-bombing the person's home, assault etc; so remarkably similar to the fate of the 16th Century Witches.

The police are now monitoring these groups (which have links with the EDL and BNP), focusing on the agent provocateur aspect, entrapment, privacy offences, harassment offences and violence. Police surveillance is professional and works to strict guidelines as they snare abusers and those involved in grooming. Cases can be dismissed if vigilantes were aiding or abetting or encouraging a person to commit an offence.

The NPCC (the National Police Chiefs Council) stress they will not work with these groups. Some of these vigilantes do mean well but often their level of evidence is not high enough in Scots Law. The police also express frustration that their activities often pull resources from high-harm cases to low-grade grooming which would not make it to court anyway.

In summer 2020 the Wolfpack Hunters felt vindicated by a UK Supreme Court ruling that evidence gathered against an accused did not contravene Article 8 of his human rights. However, the NSPCC has said it has driven offenders underground, endangered months of police surveillance, undermined the legal process and led to violence against innocent people. The Supreme Court did not examine entrapment in Scots Law. Furthermore, the Crown Office has reiterated evidence has to be sufficient, credible and admissible. Hence Scottish courts remain adept at curtailing their activities.

John V Lloyd, Inverkeithing.