May 14: Charles and his letters

IT is fair to say that the Prince of Wales does not have much in common with John Prescott – and vice versa.

Yet the former deputy prime minister spoke for many when he defended the right of Charles to write private correspondence to ministers and said it would “be wrong to ignore him”.

Those letters released under Freedom of Information laws show that the Prince takes his responsibilities extremely seriously. As the Colonel-in-Chief of many regiments, why should he not have written to Tony Blair to question whether soldiers fighting in Iraq had adequate equipment? Those who served on the front line will be delighted that such an influential figure went into battle on their behalf.

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And, as a longstanding champion and custodian of the countryside, His Royal Highness proved he was ahead of the political debate in September 2004 when he sent a lengthy missive to Mr Blair on agriculture and called for greater support for beef farmers and the promotion of British produce.

These were common sense interventions, based on the Prince’s dialogue with people who he met in the pursuit of his duties, that are likely to enhance the reputation of Charles in the eyes of the public. He is a great ambassador for Britain and it would be the height of rudeness if he did not use his position to pass on such observations to the relevant ministers – the only time Mr Blair became pre-occupied by farming, for example, came in 2001 when the foot-and-mouth epidemic delayed the general election by a month.

As such, it would be deeply regrettable if the publication of this correspondence precluded the Prince from engaging with ministers in the future. After all, he is clearly better informed on some issues than they are. In fact, it should fill us with renewed confidence that he cares so much about the fate of this nation.

Thomas Cook unapologetic over holiday horror

IN 2006, Christi and Bobby Shepherd went on a family holiday to Greece from which they would never return. Killed by carbon monoxide which seeped into their Corfu villa from a faulty boiler, the bodies of seven-year-old Christi and her six-year-old brother, from Wakefield, were discovered by a chambermaid.

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Shamefully it took eight-and-a-half years for their parents to secure answers to their many questions as to how their children were lost – and even then representatives from holiday firm Thomas Cook refused to co-operate fully with the children’s inquests.

Manny Fontenla-Novoa, chief executive at the time of the tragedy, declined to answer countless questions from the family’s solicitor, as did his former staff. They insisted they had no reason to apologise because the hotel had lied about there being no gas-fuelled water heaters at the complex. Yet even basic health and safety checks would have exposed the obvious danger.

An inquest is a fact-finding hearing and not a trial. It means that witnesses do not have to answer questions if it puts them at risk of criminal prosecution. Even so, this was a disgraceful performance in light of the deaths of two innocent children and those concerned should hang their heads in shame.

Despite the verdicts of unlawful killing, it is unlikely further criminal charges will be brought against those who were culpable in this appalling tragedy. Nevertheless, there must be a fundamental and continuous review of the protocols in place to ensure the safety of holidaymakers.

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Hotels and travel operators have a duty of care to their customers and no short cuts must be taken. Lives depend on it.

Rules of the road

EVEN though half of road users think that drink-drive limits should be lower for young and novice motorists, the related issues of fairness and enforcement mean this is unlikely to be given the green light.

The reason is this. The law has to be applied equally to all drivers, irrespective of their age, and there does remain a significant number of older motorists who continue to disregard the rules of the road because of their arrogance and cavalier attitude.

And such measures, however well-intended, will only work if they’re properly enforced. It’s why so many motorists continue to use a hand-held mobile phone while behind the wheel of their vehicle. Even though this is potentially as dangerous as drink-driving, offenders persist because they’re convinced that they will not be caught. As such, today’s survey results should perhaps be the precursor to a review of existing road safety legislation and its enforcement, so innocent lives are not lost as a consequence of inaction.