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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK

UK Politics

Straw renews attack on bogus gypsies

Mr Straw says he stands by his remarks

Home Secretary Jack Straw has defended his controversial remarks about criminals masquerading as gypsies and denied he was guilty of racism.

He said he stood by every word of an interview in which he said some travellers claimed to be Romany gypsies in order to try and get away with crimes.

[ image: Gypsy representatives say they are outraged by Mr Straw's comments]
Gypsy representatives say they are outraged by Mr Straw's comments
In his first interview since the row erupted, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was for his critics to say how his comments were inaccurate.

"It's nothing whatever to do with race, it is to do with ... people who were masquerading as travellers and who are then committing crimes.

"I do say to people who have sat in armchairs pontificating about this, go out to the West Midlands, go out to Swindon where both the local MPs have been canvassing me for firmer action, go to almost any urban area in the country and see the kind of damage to people's lives which is done by a number of itinerant travellers who masquerade as gypsies."

'Steroetypical tripe'

Home Secretary Jack Straw "It's nothing whatever to do with race"
The Home Secretary said the targets of his criticism seem to believe that by claiming to be gypsies they have "some right to be treated differently by the criminal law than they would be if they were ordinary citizens".

Mr Straw said he had received "a lot of support" as well as criticism for his remarks.

Among the critics was Charles Smith, Chairman of the Gypsy Council of Britain.

He said: "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."

The Commission for Racial Equality has also received a complaint from the Friends, Families and Travellers Advice and Information Unit about Mr Straw's remarks.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw talking to BBC Radio West Midlands
Susan Alexander, spokesperson for the unit said: "Nobody is condoning criminal activity, and we are not suggesting for one moment that there isn't criminal activity within the traveller community.

"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."

In the original interview which sparked the controversy, Mr Straw told BBC Radio West Midlands: "Many of these so-called travellers seem to think that it is perfectly OK for them to cause mayhem in an area, to go burgling, thieving, breaking into vehicles, causing all kinds of trouble, including defecating in the doorways of firms and so on, and getting away with it.

"Travellers have traded on the sentiment, they've masqueraded as law-abiding gypsies, when many of them are not."

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