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Sunday, February 15, 1998 Published at 17:41 GMT

UK: Politics

Row breaks out over Enoch Powell's funeral
image: [ Enoch Powell was a classics scholar and a soldier before making his name as a right-wing Tory MP ]
Enoch Powell was a classics scholar and a soldier before making his name as a right-wing Tory MP

A row has broken out after several leading churchmen criticised the decision to allow the body of controversial politician Enoch Powell to lie in state in Westminster Abbey.

Supporters of the late Tory maverick accused those bishops who spoke out against the move of bigotry and a lack of Christian charity.

Mr Powell, who died last weekend aged 85, was a devout Christian and a warden of St Margaret's Church, near the House of Commons, for 10 years.

The former Conservative and Ulster Unionist MP is entitled to have his body rest overnight in the Abbey on the eve of his funeral, as laid out in his will, because he was a warden at St Margaret's, which is legally part of Westminster Abbey.

National outcry

But the controversy recalls a national outcry when Mr Powell made his infamous "Rivers of blood" speech in 1968. The speech was widely labelled as racist and led to his dismissal from Ted Heath's shadow front-bench, effectively ending his chances of high office.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Coggan, said: "Anything that would exacerbate the memory of that speech is to be regretted."

The Bishop of Croydon, the Right Reverend Dr Wilfred Wood, agreed: "Enoch Powell gave a certificate of respectability to white racist views which otherwise decent people were ashamed to acknowledge."

Dr Tom Butler, Bishop of Leicester, said the decision to have the body resting in the Abbey on Tuesday night would upset ethnic minorities in his and many other dioceses.

Lack of Christian charity

But Tory MP for Staffordshire South, Sir Patrick Cormack, who will be delivering an address at Wednesday's funeral, said: "These clergymen have shown a singular lack of Christian charity and a bigoted narrowness.

"It makes one very sad that they should have done this at a time of sombre grief for Mr Powell's family."

Ann Winterton, Tory MP for Congleton, said the bishops' reservations were "absolute rubbish".

Distinguished parliamentarian

"Enoch Powell was a very distinguished Parliamentarian and served his constituents well for over 38 years. It is entirely appropriate that his body should lie in Westminster Abbey on the eve of his funeral," she said.

Sir Teddy Taylor, Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East, said Mr Powell was a deeply religious man and added: "He was particularly concerned about the need to avoid racial conflict in this country.

"It would be appalling if church leaders were to place their own interpretation on what he said and to use this as a reason for not having his body in the Abbey."

A communion service will be held at Westminster Abbey on Wednesday morning followed by a service at St Margaret's and another at Warwick, where Mr Powell is being buried.

A Church of England spokesperson, the Reverend Dr William Beaver, said: "It is entirely appropriate that his years of dedicated service are marked by the arrangements in hand.

"It would be unthinkable for the Abbey to deny the solace of the Church to a soul in transition or to family or friends in grief."

A spokesman for the Association of Black Clergy said the arrangements were in accordance with the Church's teaching that "each person stands before God and deserves the same level of love".


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