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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 20:57 GMT
Top Tory axed over Army race row
Patrick Mercer
Mr Mercer said red-haired soldiers had a 'far harder time'

A Tory MP has been forced to quit his frontbench role after making comments on race in the Army which party leader David Cameron called "unacceptable".

Shadow homeland security spokesman Patrick Mercer said he had met "a lot" of "idle and useless" ethnic minority soldiers who used racism as a "cover".

The former officer also told the Times that being called a "black bastard" was a normal part of Army life.

Mr Mercer later said he "deeply" regretted any "offence" he had caused.

'Way it is'

Some of the Newark MP's constituency colleagues have rallied to support him, with one saying Mr Cameron's reaction had been in "haste".

In his interview with the Times, Mr Mercer said of the black men he had known in the Army: "They prospered inside my regiment, but if you'd said to them 'Have you ever been called a nigger,' they would have said 'Yes.'

"But equally, a chap with red hair, for example, would also get a hard time - a far harder time than a black man, in fact."

When you wear that uniform, it is what goes on and it's been happening for a long, long time
Leroy Hutchinson
Former soldier

Mr Mercer, who spent 25 years in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters regiment, added: "But that's the way it is in the Army. If someone is slow on the assault course, you'd get people shouting: 'Come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard.'"

He also said: "I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours.

"I remember one guy from St Ann's (Nottingham) who was constantly absent and who had a lot of girlfriends.

"When he came back one day I asked him why, and he would say: 'I was racially abused.' And we'd say: 'No you weren't, you were off with your girlfriends again.'"

'Regret'

After the comments were published, Mr Mercer was asked by his party to resign his frontbench position and did so.

He later told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that in his 25-year military career he had twice come across soldiers claiming racism when disciplined for poor performance.

Mr Cameron said: "The comments made by Patrick Mercer are completely unacceptable and I regret that they were made.

"We should not tolerate racism in the Army or in any walk of life."

He also said: "I was completely shocked when I read the remarks of Patrick Mercer.

Mr Cameron called racism "disgusting", saying it had "no part in any part of our society".

Army culture

Shadow trade and industry secretary Alan Duncan told BBC One's Question Time: "He [Mr Mercer] appeared to be indifferent to the fact that someone was taunted for being black.

"You cannot be indifferent to that."

But Leroy Hutchinson, a black former corporal who served with Mr Mercer for 12 years, said: "He never tolerated racism in the battalion and not a single one of his men would consider him to be racist."

He added: "In the forces... name-calling - whether you be black, white, ginger, red, brown - it is part of the establishment."

He went on: "It's not meant and it doesn't come across from an individual as a racist comment. It's just part of the culture.

"When you wear that uniform, it is what goes on and it's been happening for a long, long time."

Newark Conservative Association chairwoman Sheelagh Hamilton said she was "extremely angry" Mr Mercer's comments had been taken "out of context".

"David Cameron has behaved precipitously," she said.

"[Mr Mercer] is a wonderful member of parliament and a wonderful man and he would never have intended to be racist," she added.

Richard Alexander, a cabinet member of the Tory-run Newark and Sherwood District Council, said: "We all say things in the heat of the moment that do not read too well in print, but I understand where he's coming from."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
David Cameron's response to Mr Mercer's comments



SEE ALSO
Reaction to Patrick Mercer's comments
08 Mar 07 |  UK Politics
Why Mercer had to go
08 Mar 07 |  UK Politics
Profile: Patrick Mercer
08 Mar 07 |  UK Politics

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