From defence of the seas to defence from the seas | @guardianletters

In 2013 the Ministry of Defence indicated that the armed services’ role was possibly moving away from the views of the electorate. The severe flooding creates a perfect role for a natural disaster defence operation. Be it power lines, water defences, forest and heath fires, a fully trained and co-ordinated response using the abilities of the forces and their equipment is increasingly necessary to restore services, roads, railways etc and to provide immediate transport to residents.
John Loader
Leyburn, North Yorkshire

• With all this catastrophic flooding in Somerset, I’ve lost track of other news. Is the government still planning to proceed with its plans for the £17bn nuclear power plant at nearby Hinkley Point?
Alan Davis
St Austell, Cornwall

• Since the sea has now become our enemy, I suggest we nuke it. Teach the elements a lesson. Vaporise a few cubic miles of ocean out west where all this weather’s coming from. This is at least as sensible a suggestion as any I have heard for putting Trident to practical use – and morally superior to others that would incinerate millions of people in a blinding flash.
Richard Bradshaw
Yarm, North Yorkshire

• Battleships or sea walls?
David Hayes

• Why is this government always seeking to blame someone else for every failure on their watch? The previous Labour government and the EU are perennial targets and the Environment Agency is just the latest in a long list. The “not me, gov” government.
Derek Haselden

• As seas rise and south-east England sinks, has the Environment Agency considered dredging the North Sea?
Richard Lewis

• The government is pushing all-out for fracking, which will make climate change far worse, offering local authorities millions of pounds in business rates incentives. And then it cuts the Environment Agency’s budget, and tries to blame it for the flooding.
Dr Bob Banks
Grindleford, Derbyshire

• Taking my cue from your excellent Weatherwatch, I discovered that one of David Cameron’s previous environment secretaries, Caroline Spelman, in February 2012 thought “Drought may be the new norm” and that GM drought-resistant crops were part of the solution.
John Cook
Bookham, Surrey

• I would like to draw the attention of the RSPB and others keen to provide enormous wetland spaces for birds to the plight of the thousands of land mammals and insects which are destroyed during these floods. What happens to the hares and foxes and voles and the millions of beetles?
Stephanie Groves
Wells, Somerset

• Flooding in the Thames Valley. Solid Tory territory. Bet that gets things done.
Tim Feest
Godalming, Surrey © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

…read more    

Convicted criminal who plotted to kill Prince Harry jailed for three years

Ashraf Islam said he had a ‘moral right to judge’ the prince because he disagreed with the work of the armed forces

A convicted criminal who plotted to kill Prince Harry has been jailed.

Ashraf Islam, 31, said he had a “moral right to judge” the royal because he disagreed with the work of the British Armed Forces, of which Prince Harry is a member.

The judge at Isleworth Crown Court in London described Islam’s plot as “vague and unlikely to succeed”, but said he presented a risk to the public.

Islam, of no fixed address but who had been living in west London, was handed a three-year jail term.

Islam pleaded guilty to making a threat to kill Prince Harry, at Uxbridge Magistrates Court in May last year.

He had earlier handed himself in to police and volunteered the information about the plot, defence counsel Roxanne Morrell said.

Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson, the recorder for the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, said he would not go over details of Islam’s plot.

But he told the court during the brief hearing: “This was not a threat made in isolation.

“The examination of your computer revealed you conducted research on his (Prince Harry’s) whereabouts and intentions.

“You had given the matter considerable thought.”

He added: “The reason behind that is that you thought he and other serving officers had some moral guilt, and you thought you had a moral right to judge.

“I accept that there is nothing here that could be described as professional plans as to your expressed intentions.

“Your plan was vague and unlikely to succeed.”

But the judge said police would have intervened had Islam, who has previous convictions for dishonesty and for involvement in an attempted robbery, attempted to carry out his plan.

The judge said he considered a longer sentence, but said it would have been deemed “excessive”.

“I would have wished to consider an extended sentence,” he said. “But the authorities are clear, even if a court finds that the person does represent a danger to the public, that doesn’t justify a longer sentence.”

Morrell, for Islam, said her client had a personality disorder. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

…read more    

Trident fleet’s future needs more debate, independent report says

Nuclear Education Trust says Britain’s nuclear weapons are irrelevant to any existing or foreseeable threats posed by foreign states

Britain’s nuclear weapons are irrelevant to any existing and foreseeable threats posed by foreign states and there is an urgent need for a wider and more informed public and parliamentary debate about their use, according to an authoritative independent report to be published on Tuesday.

There must be a much deeper debate about whether to retain or modernise the Trident nuclear ballistic missile fleet given its expense – estimated to be be £100bn over its lifetime – at a time of austerity, and the risks of accident and proliferationit creates, it adds.

“Britain’s nuclear weapons should be subject to the same cost-effectiveness test and public scrutiny that all public expenditure has to be subjected to,” says the report by the Nuclear Education Trust, an independent charity.

Its report, drawn up after consulting a wide range of defence experts, including former defence secretaries and military chiefs, questions the legality of the government’s plans to replace the existing Trident submarine fleet given Britain’s nuclear non-proliferation treaty obligations. And it says that nuclear weapons, which were not scrutinised in the last Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010 must be included in the next review due after the general election in 2015.

“Nuclear weapons represent a twentieth-century failure: they are the cold war’s unfinished business which should be solved by this generation,” says the report. It urges the government to attend an international conference in Mexico later this month on the humantiarian impact of nuclear weapons.

The trust’s report coincides with a separate study by Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), a British advocacy group, which revealed on Monday that UK government spending on research and development for nuclear weapons amounts to more than £320m a year.

The estimate includes R&D spending on nuclear warheads at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldemaston and development work for a Trident “successor” fleet. The estimate is based partly on data obtained using freedom of information requests.

The R&D spending for nuclear weapons systems is higher than that for any conventional weapons systems during this period and than key areas of UK public spending on civilian R&D.

Dr Stuart Parkinson, executive director of SGR, said: “These figures show that the UK government’s R&D priorities are distinctly warped. I cannot see how they can justify such high spending on developing new ways to deliver weapons of mass destruction, while areas as valuable as renewable energy development receive so much less public funding.”

Some consulted by the Nuclear Education Trust, including Admiral Lord West, a former first sea lord, and General Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the army, back a new Trident system despite its cost. Others question its value. “For current threats there is no relevance. But for future threats? Well, it is the ‘mere uncertainty’ argument,” said Professor Michael Clarke, director general of the Royal United Services Institute.

He added: “It’s utterly fallacious – if you told the chancellor of the exchequer that the Treasury should fund 20 hospitals …read more    

UK floods: severe warnings issued along Thames, with more rain to come

Environment Agency warns of danger to life in Berkshire, Surrey and Somerset amid political row, as Met Office warns of more rain

Sixteen severe flood warnings have been issued for southern England, with another band of strong winds and heavy rains set to lash Britain on Monday night.

The Environment Agency has issued 14 warnings of danger to life along the Thames, focusing on Berkshire and Surrey, with the remaining two applying to areas already devastated by flooding in the Somerset Levels. A further 141 flood warnings, indicating less serious risk, are also in place.

The Thames flood barrier has been closed for the 28th time this winter – the most since it was constructed – and the severe warnings along the river stretch from Datchet to Shepperton Green, including Hamm Court and Chertsey. While the Environment Agency continues to pump water from flood-affected communities in Somerset, where rainfall overnight on Sunday saw levels rise still further, a spokesman said the agency’s “main focus” was now on the Thames.

The warnings came as the political row over responsibility for the failure to dredge deepened. On Monday morning, the agency’s chairman, Lord Smith, blamed Treasury spending rules for the agency’s failure to spend more on dredging last year, and said his staff knew 100 times more than any politician about flood defence. Smith, responding to criticism from communities secretary Eric Pickles, also pointed out that, by contrast, the environment secretary Owen Paterson had been hugely supportive.

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, on a visit to flood-stricken Burrowbridge in Somerset on Monday, also entered the row. He offered partial support to Smith, telling Sky News: “I don’t think now is the time to point the finger of blame. Chris Smith and the Environment Agency have got a very difficult job to do. We can in the future look back and decide what went right and what went wrong. It is very clear for instance now that the calls here locally for the dredging of some of the local rivers, while it wouldn’t have been a magic wand solution, clearly should have been done.” David Cameron is also due to visit the south-west on Monday.

Flooding in Datchet, a village next to the river Thames near Windsor in Berkshire, forced National Rail to cancel trains on Monday morning and also prevented a replacement bus service being provided.

Services between Oxford and Radley have also been disrupted, while the rail link to the south-west remains completely cut off.

Network Rail is using shipping containers filled with rubble to provide a breakwater at Dawlish, where the mangled mainline to Cornwall was left dangling over the sea when the seawall was washed away last week.

Royal Marines from 40 Commando helped to prepare a further 20,000 sandbags for use in Somerset over the weekend. The Ministry of Defence has put 1,600 personnel on six hours’ notice to help in the south.

The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for rain from …read more