There is no more depressing sight than that of politicians and the media making political capital out of the tragic loss of life of a public servant in the course of his duty. The death of the detective Stephen Oake in Manchester, apparently at the hands of an illegal immigrant, has been seized upon by Iain Duncan Smith and Oliver Letwin, the Shadow Home Secretary, and some newspapers, to criticise the whole of the British government's immigration policies. In fact, as David Blunkett has pointed out in Parliament, the suspect in Mr Oake's death had sought asylum, been refused, appealed, absconded and disappeared - but had still been successfully tracked by the security services.

Mr Smith's decision to revive Ann Widdecombe's impractical and discredited proposal that every asylum seeker should be treated as a potential terrorist until proved otherwise was a serious mistake. Apart from the fact that such a policy would require more than 100 detention centres, it would also show that the terrorists had already won a big battle in the “war” against them because Britain would have abandoned one of the civil liberties that distinguishes democracies from dictatorships and rogue states.

The anti-terrorist laws introduced in Britain in the past two years are already dangerously oppressive in some respects. There must be a recognition that, short of turning Britain into an armed fortress, a determined terrorist will always evade the most stringent of controls. The death of a brave policeman has nothing to do with the issues raised by Iain Duncan Smith - as he should know perfectly well.

Ray Fleming

Victim or criminal

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, must be given credit for his willingness to talk openly to the media about the workings of the law and the role of the judges. However, he has already learned that expressing oneself as one would in the Law Courts does not necessarily result in clear communication with the general public. His remarks before Christmas about not sending first-time burglars to prison led to considerable public anxiety that, once again, the courts were showing a greater concern for the criminal than for the victim. Lord Woolf took note of this reaction and has now issued a clarification of his views in an effort to give assurance that he is on the side of the victim. He pointed out that a short sentence for first-time burglary puts the convicted person in jail for no more than three or six months during which time almost nothing can be done to tackle a prisoner's criminal tendencies. Such reform would more likely be achieved through appropriate, supervised, community service. However, someone who had other convictions before turning to burglary would not qualify for such treatment.

The point is presumably this: if a short prison sentence is likely to achieve nothing beyond the disruption of a first offender's life it is better avoided and replaced by community service. In this way a habit of offending might be stopped but in prison it would almost certainly be encouraged. The risk is certainly worth taking and victims should be able to accept, albeit reluctantly, that the potential long-term benefit must be kept in mind.

Monitor

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