'If people steal, it is because they are poor'

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The Independent Online
"This statement is going to do a lot of damage," Vincent Nap reckoned. He lives and works around the All Saints Road in Notting Hill, the front line in the race riots of 1959, writes Stephen Ward.

It has become a mature, owner-occupied area, still known for soft drugs, but also as a centre for small black businesses: music, minicabs, cafes, but also a furniture restorer and a classical instrument repairer. Sir Paul Condon's words had already reached the streets, and there was little surprise that a senior policeman would say what he did privately, but puzzlement that he had chosen to go public.

"If people steal it is because they are poor," Mr Nap, a reggae singer, insisted. He was watching the England-West Indies Test match in a record shop. "A lot of black people are poor. If it is true about most muggers being black, Sir Paul Condon should first understand why. If people had enough money, enough food, they wouldn't need to steal." Sir Paul should be talking to the Government about finding money to provide jobs and training for London teenagers.

He was surprised because until yesterday he had had more time for Sir Paul than for his predecessors, and he said he supported the police on the streets. "You can't have murderers and rapists," he said. But many blacks, particularly the young, already felt excluded by society. "My mother has been here 35 years, and she worked in the same hospital for 26 years, paying her taxes. But we get no thanks. There is nothing here for any of her grandchildren."

He and others said they had experience of being pulled out their cars and searched, having their dignity taken away, because they were black in an area known for drugs.

Simon Jones, a youth worker, had a simpler explanation for street crime. "Muggers are junkies, crack-heads." They stole to fund their habit.