28 SEPTEMBER 1974, Page 4

Colwell case

From the Chairman of the Maria Colwell Inquiry Sir: May I, as chairman of the Maria Colwell Inquiry, say a few words in reply to lain Scarlef's allegations of 395 "shilly-shallying" in coming to our conclusions in the Report? (September 14).

Our terms of reference required us "to inquire into and report upon the care and supervision provided by local authorities and other agencies in relation to Maria Colwell and the co-ordination between them." We were not asked to attribute blame directly to individuals but clearly to indicate where ultimate responsibility lay. Nevertheless, inevitably, in setting out the whole sad story in our findings of fact in the form of a narrative and therein recording the innumerable mistakes made, it was necessary to mention by whom these were made.

It is in our conclusions at the end of the Report that we sought to attribute blame to the authorities and agencies which, although they are the employers of those who made the mistakes, must carry ultimate responsibility. Mr Scarlet makes the perfectly valid point that such bodies are not morally to blame in such circumstances when they have hired experts to discharge their responsibilities for them, whetever the technical position may be. As a lawyer, I was always taught that a corporate body had neither soul to be damned nor a body to be kicked, but it does have the power to discipline or even to dismiss those who act in its name and also keep a close watch through its appropriate controlling committees upon general matters of policy. It seems to me that the authorities criticised in the Report can either discipline or dismiss if they accept the criticisms and consider the individuals' mistakes wholly due to the latter, or carry out a complete reappraisal of their systems of control and general policies if they feel they themselves are to blame.

I have no doubt such a course — having made the necessary choice — should always be carried out in such cases, not least in this example.

T. G. Field-Fisher 11 King's Bench Walk, Temple, EC 4.

Sir: I was glad to see your antiwhitewashing article on the Maria Colwell report in a recent Spectator.

But in the same edition, you have some hard thing's to say about the, Family Planning Association. We who help in their clinics (and are in many cases grandmothers and unpaid) are prepared to put up with some permissiveness in order to avoid the birth of just some unwanted children to possibly inadequate mothers.

E. Margaret Shepherd 67 Brookdale, London, Nil