TSUNAMI CHRISTMAS: As the Christmas season approaches we are reminded that, for many, the stars that glitter will be a reminder of what might have been.

Christmas is about celebration and, yes, enjoying ourselves. Giving and receiving, taking a well-earned rest from work and spending time with family. It is often one of the few occasions when families come together, or go away to some far off place.

Almost a year ago, this is what many people did, choosing the warmer idyllic climate of Thailand, Indonesia and the Indian sub continent. Their expectations were simple: to enjoy relaxing warm sunshine and seas away from the shivers of the UK. Something different and being with people they wanted to be with - loved ones, children. But for many, going on holiday became a tragedy, a place from which they did not return and the oceans became their graves.

We all know what happened on Boxing Day, 2004. Families were wiped out, communities decimated and a sense of shared grief existed around the world. There was also an acknowledgement that we are not infallible.

The season of Christmas evokes many feelings and emotions but, as we celebrate and enjoy the moments of joy and laughter, we should also reflect on those whose Christmas is tinged with sadness and the loss of loved ones. - Bernie Walsh, Coxhoe.


WHAT on earth is the writer of the Comment column thinking by seeking to justify the judge's decision not to imprison the Newton Aycliffe teenagers (Echo, Dec 17)?

In one breath he describes the incident as "horrific" but goes on to say that the teenagers "made one terrible error of judgement".

Wasn't their cruel and humiliating assault on the victim sustained and calculated and will it not live in the mind of the victim for many years to come? Why would it be too awful for such wicked young people to have to rub shoulders with real criminals?

Isn't what they did a criminal act worthy of severe punishment? Another "terrible error of judgement" could have proved fatal.

The majority of right-minded people have the answers to these questions. Make punishments something to be feared and bring back hanging for murderers. Society is now truly sick and tired of criminals but more so of the apologists. - D Brearley, Middlesbrough.


IN the early hours of the morning, Tony Blair caved in to the French and handed over another billion a year to keep the shambolic European Union in business.

Most people have become, understandably, bored and confused with the whole question of the EU budget.

It may, therefore, come as an uncomfortable shock to know that the Prime Minister has agreed to give Eastern Europe over the next seven years a nice round £1bn per year; this being the same amount of money as the current total NHS deficit.

If it comes to a choice between bankrolling Poland so that it can improve its sewerage and upgrade the Warsaw underground system, or correctly funding the UK's NHS system, I am sure that taxpayers would prefer their money to stay at home. - Peter Troy, Sedgefield.

TONY BLAIR has not given up over £1bn of the UK's EU rebate, he has given up part England's rebate.

This is because England already subsidises Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so none of those three countries actually contributes to EU funding. Every man, woman and child in Scotland receives from England £2,200 per year over and above Scotland's tax receipts.

Giving up England's rebate will help to fund rebuilding of the infrastructure in the new EU countries, at a time when England is being told to cut back on public services and transport links.

However, Scotland is about to launch a massive expansion of its infrastructure costing hundreds of millions of pounds, helped by English subsidies.

Scotland's public spending is 52.2 per cent of Scotland's economy, whereas in England it is less than 45.2 per cent. England shells out and loses out.

The marches that took place in Northumberland and Cumbria justifiably protesting against erosion of public services will be ignored.

However, the one thing our arrogant politicians are terrified of is the prospect of an English Parliament, and the mere threat of one will jolt our Government out of its complacency (or indeed hostility) towards England.

Therefore, we in the North should demand an English Parliament for English public services. England has paid for its place in Europe and, if we must fly the EU flag over English public offices, we must also have our own English voice speaking for England, in Europe. - Stephen Gash, Carlisle.


I AM a home owner living in an area of Middlesbrough called Gresham, where the council has applied for funding for the demolition of 1,500 homes.

As you can imagine, the vast majority of home owners who are at risk are strongly against these plans and we have lobbied our ward councillors to act on our behalf and do whatever they can to get these plans revoked. One of the councillors is Ken Walker, a Labour councillor of many years standing who has served both his ward and his local Labour party with distinction.

Acting on his electorate's behalf, he has campaigned tirelessly against these plans and has tried countless times to arrange a meeting between the council and a small number of the residents to discuss our fears.

Coun Walker has now been suspended from the local Labour party for three months for his support for his electorate.

I find it utterly amazing that a party which is celebrating the Iraqis going to the polls to elect a government to act on their behalf in the name of democracy, has denied the residents of Gresham such a luxury and a man who tries to use his democratic right to speak on behalf of his electorate finds himself gagged and subject to bully boy tactics that would be more at home in a banana republic.

Freedom of speech is one of the hallmarks of democracy and when that is denied to a councillor acting on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, it is a very black day indeed.

The lack of support Coun Walker has received, not only from his fellow Labour councillors but also from our Labour Member of Parliament, speaks volumes for what is wrong with politics under New Labour today. - P Birt, Gresham.