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The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"The Tories dismiss accusations that they are playing the race card"
 real 56k

Taylor family solicitor Neil O'May
"The Taylor family don't want their sons murder to become part of a political bat and ball"
 real 56k

Home Secretary, Jack Straw
"Mr Hague has gone too far on this"
 real 28k

Shadow home secretary, Ann Widdecombe
"I am extremely sorry if the Taylors are upset, but we have to have this debate"
 real 28k

Monday, 18 December, 2000, 17:01 GMT
Damilola's parents attack Hague
William Hague says stop and search powers are vital
William Hague's comments on Damilola's death have caused controversy
The parents of Damilola Taylor have accused Conservative leader William Hague of using the death of their 10-year-old son as a "political football".

Mr and Mrs Taylor are very unhappy that Mr Hague decided to use their son's death in his recent article and speeche

Taylor family Solicitor Neil O'May
Damilola was found near to death on an estate in Peckham, south London, last month, since when his killing and what lay behind it have formed the backdrop to a bitter political debate over police numbers

In response to the charge from his parents that the Conservatives were trying to score points with their son's death, the party apologised for any upset but insisted the debate on police numbers was necessary.

And a Tory spokesman said later: "We have no intention of treating Nigerian-born Damilola's death as a political football.

He added: "Damilola's father has himself spoken of the disappearance of the bobby on the beat since he was last in England in the 1970s."

The intervention by Damilola's family came as Downing Street said that "any politician should think hard before leaping into very sensitive murder investigations".

Parents' distress

Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged that there are "problems to do with police numbers and morale", but his official spokesman said Mr Hague's recent comments on the issue were irresponsible.

I am extremely sorry if the Taylors have been upset but we do have to have this debate

Ann Widdecombe
The Tory leader has argued that the drop in police numbers since Labour's 1997 election victory lay behind Damilola's death last month.

Richard and Gloria Taylor said on Monday that they were distressed by Mr Hague's references to their son's death in a controversial speech last week, and then repeated an article he wrote for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

Damilola's parents were too upset to appear before the media but the family's solicitor, Neil O'May, issued a statement with their views.

He said: "Mr and Mrs Taylor are very unhappy that Mr Hague decided to use their son's death in his recent article and speeches."

He continued: "They did not hear anything by way of condolences from Mr Hague after Damilola's death.

Damilola Taylor who was stabbed to death in south London
Mr Hague linked police numbers to Damilola's death
"The first they knew of his views were the reports of his article and speeches in the media in the last few days.

"The use of their son's death as a political football has caused a great deal of distress.

"They hope that their son's death will not be used by others in this way again."

Widdecombe - 'No no-go areas'

Downing Street had already attacked the Tory leader for seeking to connect a fall in police numbers and morale with Damilola's death "when we don't know the full facts".

Defending Mr Hague, shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said: "I am extremely sorry if the Taylors have been upset but we do have to have this debate.

"We cannot have, given the crime that is happening in this country, no-go areas of debate."

She insisted it was the media that constructed Mr Hague's remarks so as to directly link police numbers to the death of the schoolboy.

But the Tory leader won some local backing for his attack when Ali Balli, chairman of the local tenants' association in Damilola's estate, said police numbers in the area had been cut.

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

Straw - 'He's gone too far'

Later on Monday Mr Straw met teachers, parents and governors at Oliver Goldsmith Primary School - the school attended by Damilola - to discuss issues of child safety.

After the meeting he admitted that the police in the area were 30 officers short. "The total number of police in the area is 770 and it should be 800," he said.

The home secretary said that Mr Hague "has gone too far on this".

Over the weekend Mr Hague defended his attack on the Macpherson report into the police investigation of black teenager Stephen Lawrence's murder as having had a disastrous impact on morale in the force.

The speech ignited a political row during which Mr Straw and others accused the Tory leader of "playing the race card".

Mr Straw re-affirmed that opinion in a Commons exchange after refusing to accede to an opposition demand that he should apologise to the Tory leader.

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The aftermath

See also:

18 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Shephard attacks Tory 'navel gazing'
18 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Support for Hague's Damilola claim
14 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Hague sparks race debate
15 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Fresh attack on Tory crime figures
25 Mar 99 | Stephen Lawrence
The Lawrence inquiry
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