28 MARCH 1970, Page 25

On fanatiques and files

Sir: Do I understand Mercurius Oxoniensis, whose great good sense and happily vindic- tive spirit is otherwise a great joy to me, to be advocating (7 March) the reintroduction of general warrants, merely in order to facilitate the arrest of a few dozen half- witted students for disturbing the academic tranquillity? These warrants were con- demned by the House of Commons in 1766 as illegal and obnoxious, and what was considered 'a rod of iron for the chastise- ment of the people of Great Britain' in 1766 ought to be considered even more intoler- able two hundred years after.

I suppose the police chiefs would find it handy when it came to clearing ruffians out of Clarendon or the LSE, but what if it occurred to James Callaghan or a successor of his to round up the editors, printers and publishers of a scurrilous and seditious news- paper, namely the SPECTATOR? In any case, if students (or anyone else) commit sedition, which is no longer considered a serious crime, or otherwise create a nuisance, what is wrong with trying them individually and committing them individually to a week in jail? But not general warrants again. I don't think this country could afford the luxury of another John Wilkes to get us out of the mess this time.