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Letters (unpublished)
Many of my letters on consumer issues have been compiled into an e-book under the title Don't Take It Lying Down (see Bookshop for a synopsis). I will be including much of that book on this site eventually. Consumer issues have always been of great interest to me (see Consumer help) and my letters cover many serious issues (see also published letters). For more information about me and my work, go to my home page, or search this site.

However, many of my letters have simply been on topical or humorous issues, and a sample of unpublished ones is included below.

To the Portsmouth News (9 November 1998)

CRIME STATISTICS

In The News on 14 October you published an article about the relative crime figures between Portsmouth UK and Portsmouth USA. As I pointed out in a previous letter, you gave entirely the wrong impression as a result of not analysing the figures.

Although you published a letter from another reader on October 22 pointing this out, I don't believe this is sufficient redress. Your "Getting it right" declaration on the same page prompts me to ask you to bring to your readers' attention the true situation .

If you don't feel you should do this, I can only comment that if this sort of mistake is not put right, it may make readers question the integrity of other articles in the paper. As a daily reader of The News, I don't think you should allow doubt to be cast on your reporting in this way, because it is from papers such as yours that local people get most of their news. As a firm supporter of local daily papers (I wish we had one in Chichester), I hope you will put this mistake right so I can have faith in the news I read in the future.

To Chichester District Council

CHICHESTER DC PERFORMANCE INDICATORS

In the Chichester Observer on 29 October (page 19) you published Chichester District Council's Performance Indicators for 1997/98. I was disturbed to read that ("Responding to the public") performance was not measured because "the cost of installing the necessary software was uneconomic", and that "The Council has a published policy about how it provides services fairly to all sections of the community, but it does not monitor this performance". I wonder whether this isn't this a contradiction in terms, and whether it fulfils the legal requirements.

I see also that ("Providing accessible services") only 6 out of 10 buildings open to the public are "totally suitable for, and accessible to, disabled persons", and wonder about the legality of this, too.

Further, ("Providing homes") "The Council does not follow the Commission for Racial Equality's Code of Practice in rented housing." I would be interested to know the reason for this.

Finally, under "Leisure and recreation", you state: "The number of playgrounds which reached national standards of safety and quality - 0." Does this mean there aren't any, or none reaches the standards?

There are other anomalies too detailed to go into here, and I didn't see last year's report to compare the performance, but I hope at least in the respects I have touched on there will be a more favourable report next year.

To Portsmouth News (20 November 1998)

CRIME STATISTICS

Thank you for your letter of 16 November. I was not disputing whether the information you published on 14 October was accurate. My criticism was that you interpreted the figures with a headline which was inaccurate, and it is the headline which should be corrected. I cannot understand why you don't want to put right the completely false impression you gave readers about the relative safety of the two cities.

I am disappointed that you feel you have not unfairly treated Portsmouth; I think you have. Many readers of course take in headlines and don't remember the rest. Such an inaccurate headline will inevitably put some people off the city.

Don't trouble to reply unless you want to - I just wanted to let you have my response to your letter.

To New Scientist (22 November 1998)

GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

Congratulations to Pantelis Elia Zoiopoulos on his excellent Forum article ("Keep it clean", 21 November). His comments about public perception of the safety of geneticaly modified (GM) organisms or food are timely. While the government is dithers about the GM issue, the public (ie the consumer) is getting restless. Nothing would sharpen the industry's minds better than to make it compulsory for all product labels to state whether a product is, or contains, GM product.

Consumers could then boycott (or not) products to force the industry to produce evidence of safety (or not) in double-quick time. Trial by label is not the best way to make the GM industry commit itself to opening up on safety, but it is the quickest.

If consumers don't speak up, nothing will be done, and the entire GM industry will have a cloud of suspicion hanging over it for years, perhaps unjustly. The letters and articles (mostly negative) in the press have already started.

But if consumers don't know, they can't speak up. Labelling is how consumers know. Clear labelling happened over CFCs, but not over beef. Enough said?

Tony Holkham, Product Labelling Specialist

To New Scientist (3 March 1999)

VW SECRET INGREDIENT?

In The News (Portsmouth) last Saturday I learned that:

"Mehmet Beydilli's Volkswagen Passat hurtled past an unmarked police car on the M27... The 35-year-old... was recorded driving at 113mpg... Magistrates banned him from driving for 14 days and fined him 100 with 40 costs."

So it's an offence to be economical now, is it? And how is it that VW aren't shouting this extraordinary fuel economy from the rooftops?

To New Scientist (18 January 2000)

A few tit-bits:

[1] If Hoover wants to protect its trademark, it had better take issue with a recent edition of the Chichester Observer, which carried this small ad: "Morphy Richards 1300w cylinder hoover with attachments, good condition, 35."

[2] 8 Minute Pan Fry Dijonnaise sauce (an original Lloyd Grossman recipe) contains this helpful note: "ALLERGY ADVICE. Produced in a factory handling nuts and sesame seeds." That's a new one on me.

[3] Still on nuts, The Wooden Spoon Preserving Company's Blackcurrants with Rum (which is "lovingly prepared by hand") warns: "This product may contain trace of nut."

[4] An advert for a (forgotten the name already) toilet roll on the radio portrays the anxiety of someone who is in the smallest room and finds the roll empty. The answer, so runs the ad, is a roll which has twice as many sheets. I'm puzzled: it's still going to run out eventually, isn't it? And it's not going to fit on the holder. A better answer (in the first place) is to have a spare, surely?

[5] The label on a Clipper 'Elite' cigarette lighter advises (among a host of other things): "Be sure the flame is fully out after use." Hm. And: "IGNITE AWAY FROM FACE". Bit difficult to light a cigarette, then.

To Mobile direct (31 March 2000) by fax

Please remove 01243-537333 from your mailing list and send us 1.00 for the inconvenience and expense of having to send this fax.

We are among the growing number of companies who

[a] don't buy over the phone and
[b] don't buy from companies who send unsolicited faxes.

Besides which, we don't like what is in the small print in your offer, namely that the free air time does not apply during peak hours, nor to calls to other mobiles.

To Jaykay Marine Sales Limited (18 April 2000)

You will remember we bought a Four Winns Horizon through you last summer from Mr Whale. I thought you should know how we fared with our purchase. It would be unfair not to do so. By all means pass a copy of this letter on to the previous owners if you think they will be interested.

We used the boat six times between buying it and 30 October, a total of 24 hours on the water. During that time the boat persistently refused to re-start when hot, and we had to take it to Peter's at Chichester, who told us it was a common fault with this engine but that they would be able to fit a Volvo modification kit under warranty. They serviced it at the same time, and found the water pump housing cracked, which they also said they could replace under warranty. We took the boat out for two more brief trips, and it performed properly.

I winterised the engine as the manual instructed, and reversed the process last week. We paid for the full 2000 season at Sparkes Marina. When we came to use it for the first time last Saturday, it wouldn't start. We traced the problem to the fuel pump. The P T Marine engineer confirmed that the fuel tank outlet pipe was not blocked, so the pump must have failed.

A telephone call to Peters elicited the fact that they had never received the warranty money from Volvo as the first service on the boat (in 1998) was not carried out within the time specified on the warranty, and the warranty was therefore void.

Having already paid for the boat, marina fees and a full service, I am now faced with the large bill from Peters which Volvo would not pay, a bill from PT marine, and another bill when I pay for the replacement fuel pump myself. Somehow I feel as if I have parted with a great deal of money for very little pleasure and a great deal of aggravation. In fact, I feel cheated.

When we bought the boat from Mr Whale through you, your providing me with the warranty information carried the implication that the warranty was valid, although I did not check it for myself. I notice (now) that the sales leaflet did not mention a warranty, so I have to assume that you knew the warranty was void, even though you filled in the warranty book with my name and address as the new purchaser, leaving me to assume it was valid. Please tell me if I am mistaken about this.

Whether the previous owner was aware the warranty was void is a question which will probably never be answered. It also seems to me, with two components having failed, that the boat may well have either done considerably more than the stated number of hours, or not winterised properly during its first winter. I could of course have had the engine inspected before buying, but that might not have highlighted the problems which became apparent later and would have cost even more money.

I am well aware of the phrase 'Buyer beware'. It seems especially appropriate in this case.

To Axa Insurance (5 November 2000)

Accident date: 4 May 2000

I cannot understand why this claim has not been dealt with. Please let me know what, if anything, is being done about it.

It is now six months since the accident, and there was no dispute as to liability.

If I do not hear from you within 14 days I may have to consider taking legal action to recover my losses. I am sure you would wish to avoid adding considerable and unnecessary costs to this very modest claim.

They finally settled in February 2001 - twice. Serves them right.

To [illegible] (27 January 2001)

I don't know whether you have already looked at this problem under a past business fraud feature, but if not, may I suggest you do?

I have a perfect example of someone who has started a string of limited companies, run up debts, then had the companies dissolved or liquidated while quietly spending the 'profits' and living a very comfortable life, thank you.

DTI cannot (will not) investigate because there is never any evidence of wrong-doing while the companies are trading, and once they are dissolved they cannot investigate. There is a massive loophole in the law which, judging by consumer media, has yet to be identified, let alone plugged. The Ministry are not interested, but I suspect (apart from the misery) it costs the country billions.

If you'd like to discuss the question, please contact me.

To New Scientist (5 March 2001)

For some reason known only to themselves, publishers Lippincott Williams & Wilkins seem insistent that I should subscribe to Current Opinion in Gastroenterologist. Two years ago they suddenly started sending me the journal, and when they asked me for payment, I refused as I had never ordered it. After several returned invoices they stopped asking for money but carried on sending the journal. After a year's subscription, they stopped sending it.

Cut to January 2001. I have received advanced warning that my first issue of Current Opinion in Gastroenterology is risk-free, and I can now subscribe online for $241! Here we go again.

The thing is, I am not a gastroenterologist, or any sort of 'ologist, but a writer with an interest in science in general (but not gastroenterology in particular). I have told them this. The burning question, then, is - am I missing something? Perhaps you have a gut feeling about this.

To New Scientist (15 March 2001)

GOBBLEDEGOOK

I received this from Compuserve, my Internet Service Provider:

"This e-mail has a marketing focus and will not be distributed to those who have indicated they do not wish to receive e-mail from CompuServe."

Since I received it, there was no need to tell me, was there? If I didn't receive it, I would know I hadn't, wouldn't I.... um...?

To Prudential Pensioner Servicing (21 April 2001)

Thank you for sending my P60. However, your franked envelope was not accepted by the Royal Mail and on delivery I had to pay 69p charge. Please refund this money, and the cost of an additional stamp. Thank you. [They did.]


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