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The BBC's Guto Harri
"William Hague is standing by his most controversial comments"
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Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, Simon Hughes MP
"We lost another 1500 police in London in the last six months"
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Monday, 18 December, 2000, 10:08 GMT
Support for Hague's Damilola claim
William Hague says stop and search powers are vital
William Hague says stop and search powers are vital
Conservative leader William Hague's accusation that low police numbers contributed to the death of schoolboy Damilola Taylor has been backed by a community leader from the estate where the 10-year-old was killed.

Ali Balli, chairman of the local tenants' association in the Peckham estate where Nigerian-born Damilola bled to death, said police numbers in the area had been cut: "They have actually cut our numbers from three to two.

"That's appalling. It has obviously contributed to crime in our area. I don't see how Mr Straw can ignore us any longer," he told the BBC.

His comments came after the Metropolitan Police Federation confirmed there was a shortage of 20 police officers on the housing estate.

Row over 'race card'

On Sunday Mr Hague renewed his attack on the government's record on policing, saying it had not fulfilled promises to increase officer numbers.

He seems to have got into a slight muddle

Sir Edward Heath
He also defended his controversial speech last week in which he said the Macpherson report into the police investigation of black teenager Stephen Lawrence's murder had had a disastrous impact on morale in the force.

The speech ignited a political row during which Home Secretary Jack Straw accused the Tory leader of "playing the race card".

Some senior Tories have also expressed concern at their leader's comments.

Steven Norris, the party's vice-chairman with responsibility for ethnic minority issues, said he supported the findings of the Macpherson report.

"I don't think you can say the Macpherson report led to a rise in street crime," Mr Norris told the Independent newspaper.

Mr Hague's latest views were branded a "permission to attack young black people" by Bill Morris, head of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Law and order 'crisis'

The prime minister's spokesman accused Mr Hague of "casting around for anything to get himself noticed".

But shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said anyone who attempted to paint the Tories as playing the race card was "diminishing the level of political debate, free speech and democracy".

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Hague insisted that he would continue to confront the "crisis in law and order".

Home Secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw: "Disgraceful attack by William Hague"
In his article, Mr Hague branded the home secretary's criticisms as "truly disgusting and disgraceful".

The row was sparked by Tory allegations that a decline in the numbers of people stopped and searched by police has had a direct correlation to an increase in street crime.

Mr Hague said in his speech last week that officers feared being accused of racism if they stopped black suspects, because the Macpherson report had described the police as "institutionally racist".

'No link'

The government said it did not dispute that morale in the Metropolitan Police had fallen since the report was published.

But ministers insisted Home Office research showed there was no link between the drop in stop and search and a rise in street crime.

The Tory leader's comments came under public fire from Conservative former prime minister Sir Edward Heath.

Damilola Taylor who was stabbed to death in south London
Mr Hague linked police numbers to Damilola's death
Asked whether he supported Mr Hague's speech on race and the police, Sir Edward told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost: "No. He seems to have got into a slight muddle. And I don't believe in that."

But Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, welcomed Mr Hague's effort to open up the debate on the impact of the Macpherson report.

"The spirit, the confidence, the whole feeling of the police service has been affected in the last two years since the publication of Macpherson.

"That's absolutely true," he told Sky's Sunday with Adam Boulton.

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See also:

17 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Police morale 'worst yet'
15 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Fresh attack on Tory crime figures
14 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Hague rounds on 'liberal elite'
25 Mar 99 | Stephen Lawrence
The Lawrence inquiry
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