Vol. 45 No. 24 · 14 December 2023

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Bad Blood

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite writes about the Infected Blood Inquiry, whose final report is expected next March (LRB, 16 November). The inquiry commissioned a study from Robert Francis KC on the levels of compensation to be paid by the government to those originally affected, or their survivors and dependants. Interim sums of £100,000 were issued earlier this year; the government’s full response to recommendations on compensation will probably not be received until after the inquiry’s final report is delivered.

In early 1991 the government settled a raft of HIV haemophilia litigation (in which I was one of three lead solicitors) by means of further payments into the Macfarlane Trust, which was set up in 1988 to support haemophiliacs who had been infected with HIV by using contaminated blood products. It suited the government to be making payments that were not formally civil damages. In aggregate the benefits from the trust in many (but by no means all) cases approached the civil court damages recoverable in similar cases of the time. The settlement reflected the difficulties of proving the existence of a duty on the NHS to provide safe levels of haemophilia care: criticism of decisions on public spending was then thought to be a matter for the ballot box rather than the High Court. It was impossible to trace the manufacturer of the infective product in an individual case and the burden of proof was on the claimants so that their prospects of success were low.

In 2004 the government offered compensation for Hepatitis C infection via blood products through another charitable device: the Skipton Fund. I was appointed chair of the appeals panel. In very many cases the applicants’ NHS records had been routinely destroyed and the panel had to try to make fair decisions based on minimal information. Again, the fact that the burden of proof was on the appellants put major difficulties in their way.

Robert Francis’s recommendations go far beyond what is provided by other compensation schemes (for example the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme) or in civil damages claims. There are recommendations for hearings in person and discretionary legal and advocacy support, and, most strikingly, for a general ‘presumption that statements of fact by an applicant are correct’ – an explicit reversal of the obligation on the applicant to prove that they are probably entitled to an award.

Mark Mildred
London SW11

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite describes globus pharyngeus as a permanent obstruction of the throat. While the symptom can be persistent, recurrent and long-standing, it is not permanent. Whats more, it is a psychosomatic sensation of blockage in the throat, rather than an actual obstruction.

Samrat Prasai

Big Six v. Little Boy

Andrew Cockburn is correct that the use of atomic bombs wasn’t essential to secure Japan’s surrender in the Second World War (LRB, 16 November). The question isn’t if Japan would have surrendered, but when. By the time, fifty years ago, I wrote and produced episode 24 of The World at War (‘The Bomb’), Gar Alperovitz’s revisionist account in Atomic Diplomacy was well established. Indeed, I included segments of the diary of the US secretary of war, Henry Stimson, read by McGeorge Bundy, in the programme. It was Stimson’s view, as Cockburn says, that deploying the bomb would greatly strengthen Truman’s hand in dealing with Stalin’s perceived failure to implement the agreements he had made at Yalta with regard to Eastern Europe. But there was a second aspect to Stimson’s thinking. Having agreed at Tehran in 1943 to join the war against Japan once Hitler was defeated, at Yalta Stalin committed to fulfil this pledge three months after the German surrender. That made 8 August 1945 (or the morning of 9 August) the target. However, by the time Churchill, Stalin and Truman met at Potsdam in July 1945, the US had decided that finishing the war by that date would have the benefit of excluding the Soviet Union from any say in the postwar administration of Japan.

As it turned out, even the second nuclear attack, at Nagasaki on 9 August, did not force Japan’s surrender: that came only when Molotov informed the Japanese envoy, Prince Konoe, who had been dispatched to secure Soviet mediation with the Allies, that instead of mediating the Soviet Union would be joining the war against Japan.

None of this invalidates the logic that was used to justify the dropping of the bomb. Atomic weapons were not seen as more immoral than the three nights of fire-bombing of Tokyo, which caused more fatalities than either the Hiroshima or the Nagasaki attack (the impact of radiation sickness was little understood at the time). Not to use a weapon that might shorten the war, and save the US from the number of casualties it experienced at Okinawa (but on a far larger scale, if the Japanese mainland had to be invaded), was surely a political obligation. That Stimson had another agenda doesn’t alter this logic. Truman never had a moment of doubt or regret.

David Elstein
Sevenoaks, Kent

Not that Simple

Conor Gearty notes that the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan KC, recently confirmed that his jurisdiction extends not only to Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories, but also to ‘any Rome Statute crimes committed by Palestinian nationals or the nationals of any state parties on Israeli territory, if that is proven’ (LRB, 30 November).

A quarter of a century has now passed since delegates from all over the world voted by an overwhelming majority to create an international criminal court covering the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression. The preamble to the Rome Statute refers to ‘unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity’; Article 5 describes them as ‘the most serious crimes of concern to the international community’. Prosecution for these crimes is demanded because their victim is humanity as a whole.

If only it were that simple. First, there is the tension between the powerful nations, unwilling to surrender any sovereignty, and the weaker nations. The Security Council can, for renewable twelve-month periods, halt any ICC proceeding, thus preventing the court from being a truly independent institution. In fact, the principle of ‘complementarity’ requires it to halt its proceedings if a national court is ‘genuinely’ in the meantime able and willing to try the accused.

Second, of the forty-odd individuals who have been tried by the ICC, all of them have been from the weaker countries in Africa, and only nine have been convicted. The court has not pursued government officials but has instead chosen to pursue mostly rebels, for which purpose it has had to enlist the support of governments. At the same time, it has had to avoid creating the impression of being an instrument of governments. All this – as well as the court’s need to be seen to be meticulous in its evidence-gathering – results in proceedings that are painstakingly slow. By the time cases are heard, let alone decided, events have moved on.

Satvinder Juss
King’s College London

Stamford Hill to Aldgate

Daniel Trilling mentions that Alexander Baron wrote for the BBC’s Play for Today (LRB, 16 November). He also wrote for several ITV drama strands, including four plays for ABC’s Armchair Theatre when it was led by Sydney Newman in the early 1960s. Play for Today engaged strongly with Jewish life in London as it had altered over time. There was Les Blair’s beautiful Beyond the Pale (1981), which depicted families and left-wing anarchists in Whitechapel in the early years of the 20th century, with Dovid Katz as its Yiddish adviser. And there were Bernard Kops’s contemporary plays of grief, greed and love, nostalgia and change: Moss (1975) and the genial, hopeful Rocky Marciano Is Dead (1976).

Tom May
Wylam, Northumberland

Can’t you take a joke?

Jonathan Coe refers to ‘The Two Ninnies’, the parody sketch of The Two Ronnies that appeared in Not the Nine O’Clock News (LRB, 2 November). Both Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett were apparently offended by the depiction; they didn’t think they should have been the target of fellow BBC comedians, and no doubt were hurt by the confirmation of their passing out of fashion. The writers of NTNON included Richard Curtis; it seemed the work of a new and more irreverent generation – as other comedy sketch shows had before it. To a remarkable extent this generation, whose members are now in their mid-sixties, has held sway in British culture. Rowan Atkinson was at the centre of NTNON and went on to make Blackadder, which he wrote with Curtis and Ben Elton, as well as Mr Bean. Among the stars of Blackadder were Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie: Atkinson, Fry and Laurie are these days edging towards the status of national treasures. Have they ever attracted ridicule from younger comedians? If not, perhaps it’s because their topical comedy was never central enough to British life to make that plausible. Laurie and Fry have gone on to make fortunes courtesy of Hollywood and Audible. Only Curtis (who has also written with Dawn French) gets a regular kicking in the press – for writing movies (Love, Actually among them) that now seem unacceptable. By all accounts his new festive film, Genie, fails to offer redemption.

Jason Fowler
London N4

Straight from the Udder

‘Freshness was prized,’ John Gallagher writes of the milk sold by London’s hawkers in the time before refrigeration (LRB, 2 November). He mentions that in Green Park, ‘where cows grazed, you could treat yourself to a warm cup of milk straight from the udder.’ I wonder where those cows were kept. In the 19th century, the gentry might put them in mews behind their houses and have servants walk them to pasture. A friend of mine tells me that his great-grandmother, who lived in Bond Street, had trouble keeping footmen who, relegated to that chore, were snooted by footmen in grander houses. The mews (or cellar) cow vanished from London with the advent of the railways. I’m told that Lord Rayleigh’s dairy, at Terling, Essex, went commercial once the trains could speed its milk to London before spoiling.

Margo Miller
Boston, Massachusetts

Illegal Register

Celia Donert writes that Gypsies were monitored in imperial and Weimar Germany, some years before the Nazi extermination programme began (LRB, 2 November). Some public authorities in 21st-century Europe continue to see Roma people as requiring special attention merely because of their background: in 2013 it was revealed that the Swedish police were keeping illegal registers containing the details of more than four thousand Roma people, many of them unsuspected of any crime, many of them children.

Ned Hercock

A Woman’s Work

Daisy Hay writes about James Murray and the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary (LRB, 19 October). My grandfather Leonard James Spencer was a devoted contributor of words (geological) to the dictionary. I inherited his set and brought it with me to Vancouver in the early 1970s. Gwyneth Logan, Murray’s youngest daughter, lived nearby. She told us that the OED had been a constant presence in her childhood since she earned her pocket money by sorting the newly arrived slips into alphabetically ordered baskets. She was paid, as I recall, a farthing a slip.

Roderick J. Barman
Vancouver, British Columbia

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