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Last Updated: Friday, 9 March 2007, 12:42 GMT
I am not racist, says sacked Tory
Patrick Mercer
Mr Mercer said he 'came down hard' on racism
Tory MP Patrick Mercer - who was forced to quit his frontbench role over comments he made about black soldiers - has said he is not a racist.

Mr Mercer, an ex-colonel, had to resign after he said he had met "a lot" of "idle and useless" ethnic minority soldiers who used racism as a "cover".

He said he accepted his comments might have "hurt" soldiers who served with him and "embarrassed" his party.

But he said he had been reporting what he had seen going on in the army.

And he stressed he always "came down hard" on racist bullying when he came across it.

'Fine line'

In the newspaper interview that sparked the row, Mr Mercer appeared to suggest being called a "black bastard" was a normal part of Army life.

In my 12 years with the battalion no form of racism went unpunished
Leroy Hutchinson
Former soldier

Conservative leader David Cameron said his comments, to The Times website, were "unacceptable" and asked for his resignation.

Mr Mercer, MP for Newark, later said he "deeply" regretted any "offence" he had caused.

But speaking to his local radio station, BBC Radio Nottingham, after his resignation, he said he did not think his comments had been racist.

"I am repeating what I heard going on inside the army and that's why when I took over command of Nottinghamshire's own battalion I was absolutely rock hard about these things and made sure there was no racism in my battalion."

He said there was a "fine line between friendly ribaldry and actually racist and other forms of bullying," but on the few occasions when racism did occur he "absolutely jumped on it".

'Hurt'

He said his battalion, which had a high number of black and ethnic minority soldiers in it, was "happy and harmonious".

But he added: "There is no doubt...that what I said was unwise, that the decision has been made that I should be removed from the front bench because clearly I have embarrassed the party.

"And I imagine that I have caused hurt to some of the splendid soldiers that I commanded.

"That's why I have apologised and that's why I have gone. That's the decision and I support it."

'Modern practices'

He accused the Times of putting an "extremely mendacious angle" on his comments.

The deputy chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, Bill Walker, said that although Mr Mercer was "reporting factually what happened" he could have "chosen different words to describe it in order to comply with modern practices".

"In the world we live in people take offence very easily and very quickly, and sadly in politics you have to learn to live in the times you live in - not in the past," adding that he would not have sacked Mr Mercer for the comments.

Mr Mercer was backed by a former member of his battalion, Leroy Hutchinson, who told BBC Radio Nottingham: "In my 12 years with the battalion no form of racism went unpunished."

Cameron's regret

Mr Mercer, who spent 25 years in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters regiment, said in the Times interview: "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."

Explaining his decision to sack Mr Mercer, 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."


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



SEE ALSO
Top Tory axed over Army race row
08 Mar 07 |  UK Politics
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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