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The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Some won't forgive what they see as a crass invasion of a sensitive murder case"
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The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"Far from retreating, Mr Hague has stepped up the attack"
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Leader of the Opposition William Hague MP
"Another Labour government means lower police morale"
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Monday, 18 December, 2000, 18:08 GMT
Hague defends Damilola comments

Damilola Taylor's parents are angry with William Hague
Conservative leader William Hague has denied he is a racist in the wake of accusations he played the race card by bringing the death of Damilola Taylor into a row over police numbers and morale.

In a BBC interview Mr Hague expressed sympathy with the Taylor family saying that no-one could imagine what they had been through, but he did not offer them an apology.

There will be more crime if police numbers and police morale continue to fall

William Hague
Mr Hague also indicated that he believed another Labour government could mean more tragedies like that of the murder of Damilola.

The Tory leader's comments followed an angry denouncement of his views by the Taylors.

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, which were then repeated in 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."

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

'More tragedies'

But Mr Hague insisted he would continue to speak out on falling police morale and numbers.

"We can't just bury our heads in the ground," he said.

During the interview with BBC political editor Andrew Marr, Mr Hague said if police numbers and morale continued to fall under Labour, then there would be more opportunities for criminals and more crime as a result.

Asked if he predicted more murders under Labour like the murder of Damilola, Mr Hague said: "There will be more crime if police numbers and police morale continue to fall. And that will mean, yes, that there are more tragedies which we all end up discussing."
Home Secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw: "William Hague has gone too far"

Damilola bled to death after being stabbed in the leg on the Peckham estate where he lived.

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.

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.

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.

Damilola Taylor who was stabbed to death in south London
Mr Hague linked police numbers to Damilola's death
"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.

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.

But the home secretary insisted that Mr Hague "has gone too far on this".

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The aftermath

See also:

18 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Support for Hague's Damilola claim
17 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Police morale 'worst yet'
14 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Hague sparks race debate
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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