Further to Kenneth Roy's piece on public health scare-mongering (20 January): Sometimes governments choose to bury reports on public health issues by publishing them at a time when they imagine people will have other things on their minds. That was surely a factor in the decision of the Thatcher government to publish the Black report on the links between health and inequality on the August Bank Holiday of 1980.
To emphasise their hope that no-one would read this report they only published 260 copies. Unlike later government concerns about bird flu, AIDS or obesity, they clearly hoped the question of health and inequality would sink without trace. Douglas Black, educated at Forfar Academy, and his committee had been commissioned to investigate health differences between various classes. They discovered enormous class differences not only in terms of life expectancy and levels of ill-health but also in the utilisation of preventive services. The reasons for burying the report are, however, more likely to lie with their recommendations – increased funding, improved co-operation between services, non-means-tested access to free milk for babies and the targeting of services at disadvantaged areas.
For the next 15 years, the Black report was handed around like a samizdat in 1960's Russia or a dirty book in 1950's Arbroath. Everyone concerned about healthcare knew it existed, knew how to access it but was never seen in public with it. It became socially acceptable again after the election of the Labour government and the Sure Start scheme has all the hallmarks of a child of the Black report. But, as far as widespread investment was concerned, the tide had turned.
Politicians had not entirely turned their backs on public investment in infrastructure but the language had shifted to one of shared funding with the private sector; it became much easier to hector unhealthy individuals about their lifestyles. The Black report had moved seamlessly from being a closely guarded secret to being revered – or ignored – as a historical curiosity. Increasing levels of inequality would suggest that we could do with a new, freshly researched Black report for 2016.
John Ashton, in his comments on my Lockerbie article (27 January) accuses me of 'breezily' dismissing Morag Kerr's book which argues that the bomb was placed on board PanAm 103 at Heathrow, not Malta. It's true that I haven't spent a lot of time on that, but only for the same reason that the appeal court dismissed it. Even defence lawyers felt that there was no collateral evidence to support it.
When you have a large and complex circumstantial case, everything has to to fit into a coherent picture. Picking one part and analysing it in detail is unconvincing if what you come up with ignores other contradictory evidence. For a long time those who argued for the Heathrow theory placed a lot of weight on the evidence that there had been a break-in: a padlock had been cut, allowing access to a potential bomb-carrier. That theory, I believe, has now been abandoned, because the timing is not right. The bomber would have had to lurk undetected for about 17 hours before loading his bomb. Ms Kerr, however, says that the evidence for a suitcase of the right size and colour being loaded onto the luggage container is incontrovertible. The appeal court tested that against the accepted evidence of an unaccompanied bag coming from Malta that morning, and the bomb bag containing clothing purchased in Malta. You have to ignore both of those pieces of evidence if Heathrow is the starting point.
I am more disappointed that Mr Ashton did not address the new evidence that shows Abdelbaset al-Megrahi sharing a flight to Malta with a known bomb-maker in the days before the bombing, and that that same bomb-maker greeted him on his return to Libya after being released from prison. He says that he did not know about this when he wrote his books. I accept that. But he knows now.
Further to the information in The Midgie that one of Jeremy Corbyn’s cats was called 'Harold Wilson', in our family we went one better. My husband had an appointment in the line of work to have a meeting with Harold Wilson and wanted to wear a particular shirt, particularly well-ironed. He mentioned this to our then home-help – an Irish woman with a distinct sense of humour. Ever after, we would hear her addressing this same shirt as she took it out of the ironing basket: 'Come on Harold’.
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