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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
Lotto fund chief receives 'hate mail'
Asylum seekers near Sangatte, Northern France
Asylum is a growing problem across Europe
The peer at the centre of a row about lottery grants to asylum seekers has told the BBC she fears for the safety of her staff following a hate mail campaign.

Public debate is one thing, public anger is another

Lady Brittan
Lady Brittan, chairwoman of the Community Fund, claims the letters began arriving after the Daily Mail newspaper asked its readers to "vent their anger" on the organisation.

The newspaper condemned the sending of hate mail but said the people had a democratic right to "express their views".

The Community Fund, which distributes lottery cash to charities, came under the spotlight earlier this year over plans to hand 340,000 to a group which helps asylum seekers fight deportation.

Money well spent?

Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, with Home Secretary David Blunkett, suspended the grant for the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), pending an inquiry.

The Daily Mail would never condone the sending of hate mail

Daily Mail
The Home Office and the Culture Department said they were worried the group may be encouraging people to break the law in campaigning against deportations.

Ms Jowell said lottery players had to be sure their money was being well spent.

The campaign against the Community Fund has been led by the Daily Mail.

'Bickering in public'

The newspaper told its readers: "If you want to vent your justified anger over the community fund's use of lottery money write to Lady Brittan. c/o the Community Fund."

Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary
Ms Jowell says she wants 'bickering' to stop
It then printed the Community Fund's address.

The fund has been under pressure from the government not to respond to the newspaper's campaign.

Ms Jowell told the BBC: "Bickering in public is bad for the lottery."

Safety fears

But Lady Brittan, wife of the Conservative former home secretary Sir Leon Brittan, has said enough is enough.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's The World at One, she said: "Quite junior members of staff in our London office are now subject to abusive and threatening phone calls and also they are having to open and log and read very, very abusive letters and, indeed, threatening letters.

"Our office is so placed that people can walk in off the street and we are very concerned for the safety and security of the people who work on our ground floor."

'Going too far'

She went on: "People have walked in off the street. I don't think staff should be put under that kind of pressure."

She said she was prepared to accept criticism but thought the Daily Mail had "gone too far".

"In this job, I am perfectly used to taking criticism.

"But what I think is unacceptable is that a national newspaper should have asked its readers to "vent their justified anger".

"It's very, very different from asking their readers to send in their comments."

'Free from interference'

She said: "I am perfectly happy to enter into a debate. Public debate is one thing, public anger is another.

"I am not criticising the Daily Mail per se, but if the effect of what they have printed in the newspaper is to produce sackfulls of deeply abusive letters it speaks for itself."

Lady Brittan said the Community Fund was set up by parliament as an "independent body", subject to policy guidance from culture ministers.

But, she stressed, it was meant to be "independent in the way it gives out its money" and "free from political interference".

Lady Brittan added: "If David Blunkett has concerns about what the Community Fund does, I would be very happy to talk to him one-to-one."

Mail's response

The Daily Mail claims it has the backing of David Blunkett in its efforts to highlight the activities of the Community Fund.

In a statement, the newspaper told the BBC: "In a democracy we believe people have the absolute right to express views about how their money is being spent, particularly when it is being distributed by a non-accountable quango.

"The Daily Mail would never condone the sending of hate mail and, while we note that the fund has only received a handful of such letters, we abhor such behaviour.

"We have never printed anything other than the office address of the community fund, which is available to all on a website."

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See also:

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