Hague on defensive over his `Damilola' remarks


Mr William Hague has strongly denied using the murder of 10year-old Damilola Taylor as "a political football". In a robust interview with the BBC last night, the Conservative leader declared he would not be "bullied" from discussing the issues of falling police numbers and police morale, which he maintained contributed to the tragedy.

Mr Hague was forced back on the defensive after Damilola's parents, Richard and Gloria Taylor, spoke of their distress at his comments about their son's killing in a speech last week and in a weekend newspaper article. Mr Neil O'May, the solicitor acting for Mr and Mrs Taylor, said "the use of their son's death as a political football" had caused them "great distress". In a statement on their behalf he added pointedly: "They did not hear anything by way of condolences from Mr Hague after Damilola's death."

Mr Hague said Damilola's murder had followed reductions in the number of foot patrols through the crime-ridden South London estate where the 10year-old boy lived.

However, he provoked comparisons with the late Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech when he resumed his attack on "political correctness" and the Macpherson Report's finding of "institutional racism" in the Metropolitan Police.

Mr Hague last night again rejected government accusations that he was playing "the race card", insisting "I'm not a racist, there isn't a racist syllable in anything I've said". He repeated his claim that the government was failing black and other ethnic minority communities, and "failing our country" while he was raising matters of major public concern. Brushing off suggestions that he should have consulted Mr and Mrs Taylor before speaking out, Mr Hague said he could not imagine what they had been through. '

However he insisted: "The whole country has to talk about the implications of tragedies like this. We can't just bury our heads in the sand. We've got to say `something must be done'." And he suggested there could be more such tragedies under Labour.

Paying his second visit to Peckham since Damilola's killing the Home Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, dismissed the suggestion that low police numbers might have been a factor in the boy's death. He said: "I don't think Mr Hague has any new point to make. This is not the moment to start trading figures about police numbers." Mr Straw said that while there was a debate to be had between the parties, it was not remotely sensible that it should take place now.