HARD TO CREDIT: I AM writing to you about Child Tax Credits.

Back in October, my payments stopped for my two children who are four and six years old. They stopped because I did not know how to fill in my annual declaration form. I waited for 14 weeks and phoned non-stop all over the Christmas period.

Eventually, my Citizens' Advice Bureau advisor contacted a local MP and I got my money backdated. I was not compensated for my distress and received no apology for my trouble.

Now I have received a letter from the Inland Revenue saying I owe them a large amount of money.

These are just the raw facts but I think that the system is a disgrace. - E Stott, Newton Aycliffe.


THE excellent article by Sharon Griffiths on how supermarkets are taking over the world (Echo, Apr 15) is an important reminder that they can kill town centres.

Darlington is about to become the supermarket capital of the North-East with the development of a Tesco Extra Superstore in the heart of its historic marketplace.

This development, for which a planning application is expected later this year, has the potential to destroy the Covered Market along with many other specialist retail businesses in the town - the very businesses that give the town its special character.

This development has been described as an accolade for the town. It is no such thing as it is part of a national Tesco strategy to target new development in the heart of the nation's market towns. We are told that a risk assessment shows that our markets and specialist shops will not be impacted. This assessment should be released so that it can be examined and challenged in public debate.

There should be the widest possible consultation before the local authority takes up any position on whether to support the development and long before it gets to the planning application stage.

We all need to "be very afraid". - Alan Coultas, Darlington.


THE writer, DE Sparks (HAS, Apr 18) bemoans the fact that "the Conservative Party knew they would never receive any votes here so they ignore the North-East when in office and, likewise, New Labour also knew that the Tories will never receive any votes locally, so they too ignore us - heaven help us".

Can I suggest, (even though I am a practising Catholic) Mr Sparks does not rely on heaven at this stage and does all he can to find some well-meaning residents who will stand as Independents.

There are no less than 23 local people (Stockton, Billingham and Thornaby) standing as Independent councillors in the Stockton elections on May 5, who are tired of both Labour and Conservative forcing national policies onto local residents.

These people are the acorns and will, with the help of residents, become the oak trees of this area in Westminster. If you are not happy with a situation, take the matter into your own hands and change it - or at least try. - Joan McTigue, Independent councillor, Middlesbrough.


RE plans for the Commercial Street shopping centre in Darlington. What concerns me is spending £90m on the complex but building car parks on other areas.

Why can't an underground car park be part of the plans. Don't tell me it can't be done. I have travelled to France and they build them in older towns than Darlington.

Looks like one of the planners has been on his holidays to Tunisia judging by the palm trees. - RF Bowes, Redcar.


DEREK Cattell is clearly not a Labour stalwart (Echo, Apr 18) if he is prepared, publicly, to attack the party leader during an election campaign.

Derek is entitled to his views and has every right to disagree with, withdraw his support, and even transfer his support from Tony Blair to another candidate.

To do so publicly at this time merely demonstrates that he puts his private interests before those of the movement that has, for over a century, fought for and improved the conditions of the ordinary families of this country.

I have mixed feelings about the war in Iraq and can't criticise Reg Keys for his wish to use the election to pursue his heartfelt agenda. If Derek Cattell's support helps him to succeed, the only outcome will be to replace a Labour government with a Tory one.

Does he not realise that the Tories also supported the invasion of Iraq? Whatever the outcome of this election, history will record Tony Blair as a significant international statesman and one who had a moderating influence on the unpredictable George Bush. - Phil Hunt, Barningham, Teesdale.


IAN White is over-reacting to news that motorists can be fined £20 for leaving their engines running when stationary (HAS, Apr 14).

Wardens will use common sense and not catch drivers stopped at traffic lights and zebra crossings.

It is a very good idea to encourage drivers to switch off their engines if they expect to be stationary for more than a minute or so.

This action will reduce the pollution that helps to cause global warming, make the atmosphere less poisonous to breathe and also reduce consumption of petrol and diesel - quite costly nowadays.

Let us all use our common sense and switch off when parked and make Darlington a better place to live. - Malcolm Dunstone, Darlington.


COULD any of the various authorities concerned explain to the public why it is that vandals, yobs and foul-mouthed louts, referred to in recent years as anti-social elements - in reality young criminals - are allowed to run free all over the country.

Their faces are blotted out in pictures, their names not disclosed and many and varied are the excuses as to why they are not dealt with.

But if someone does attempt to deal with them, ie long-suffering victims, these people are immediately apprehended and prosecuted.

These mindless thugs know they will get away with it or they would not do it. The fact that their victims are the ones prosecuted must make them gloat with delight - and encourage them still further.

Just how ridiculous can things get? - A Jammis, Spennymoor.


I WOULD like to bring to the attention of your readers the suffering of goldfish given as prizes at fairgrounds.

This is still common practice among a number of fairs that visit the North-East, although it is within local councils' powers to ban it.

The RSPCA opposes this practice. Fish are easily stressed, suffer from oxygen starvation and shock and even die from changes in the water temperature.

Many fairground fish die before their new owners can get them home. As events are held at weekends, many people don't have fish food at home and the fish has to wait until the Monday before it gets fed.

If you see goldfish being given away as prizes, please let the stall owner know that you think it is wrong, and please contact the council to complain. Many councils have already banned this practice. - Kathy Barley, Darlington.