Thursday, August 19, 1999 Published at 22:08 GMT 23:08 UK
Straw reported to race watchdog
Mr Straw claims criminals are masquerading as law-abiding gypsies
The home secretary told a local radio station some groups of travellers were causing havoc in local communities, trading on a sentimental "gypsy" image while committing serious crimes.
Downing Street has defended Mr Straw, saying his comments were directed at people who broke the law and his record for countering racism was second to none.
"Travellers have traded on the sentiment, they've masqueraded as law-abiding gypsies, when many of them are not."
The Commission for Racial Equality said it had received a complaint from the Friends, Families and Travellers Advice and Information Unit with regards to Mr Straw's comments.
A statement by the commission said: "The Commission for Racial Equality actively opposes any stereotyping of gypsies or travellers because this can damage race relations by creating and reinforcing prejudice."
"However, that does that not justify the whole community being branded as criminals.
"No other section of the community would be treated in that way."
She told the BBC: "As long as he is saying that they apply to some and not all travellers, as long as he was restricting his remarks they are more understandable.
"But he's the home secretary, he's a statesman and he's got to be very careful to put his remarks in context."
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Richard Allan has described Mr Straw's remarks as "alarming".
Chris Johnson, a lawyer on the Travellers' Advice Team, told The Times newspaper: "I find Mr Straw's comments incredible.
Charles Smith, Chairman of the Gypsy Council of Britain, said he was also angered by the home secretary's remarks.
"He is accusing all travellers of going thieving and burgling. Just imagine what the reaction would be if he had said it about black people. Jack Straw is talking absolutely stereotypical tripe."
Mr Straw attracted controversy earlier this year when he said people in Liverpool "were always up to something."
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