Met deflects race charge in anti-mugging drive

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The Independent Online
Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, yesterday pushed ahead with his controversial initiative against street crime, rebutting charges of racism.

Sir Paul, however, acknowledged in a private meeting with about 25 community leaders that his initial presentation on the link between race and mugging had been mishandled. Scotland Yard showed its eagerness to deflect the controversy by refusing to say who had attended the meeting. But Sir Paul came under renewed attack for relying on statistics that many believe are misleading and reliable.

He told a news conference that muggings had doubled in the last ten years. Last year, 33,000 street crimes were reported; in the first six months of this year the figure was 20,000.

He said 20 police areas in the capital had a significant problem and that information from victims in those areas suggested that 60 to 90 per cent of the offenders were black. He put the average for London as a whole at around 70 per cent. Sir Paul was unable to explain how the information was obtained.

A political furore was caused earlier this month when Sir Paul wrote to 40 community leaders that most muggings in London were carried out by black youths. He was criticised for playing to a racial stereotype.

Scotland Yard's new anti-mugging initiative, Eagle Eye, will start next Thursday. Police and camera surveillance will be used to target suspects in 16 of the capital's 62 police divisions. Yesterday Sir Paul said he felt it had been necessary to explain in advance to black communities that his crime initiative was likely to target black youths.

He said: "Victims tell us that in a significant proportion of robberies in London the people who are committing them happen to be black.

"It is not their blackness that has made them commit crime, but we cannot ignore the fact that many of the youngsters we are going to be arresting are going to be black."

He added: "We are not interested in their colour, we are interested in the fact that they are street robbers."

Some black community leaders boycotted the meeting partly because it clashed with the second anniversary of the death of Joy Gardner, the illegal immigrant who died after a violent struggle with police. About 70 people, including the members of Joy Gardner's family, demonstrated outside Scotland Yard.

Aubrey Rose, deputy chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, who did attend the meeting, said afterwards: "I think Sir Paul realised he made a mistake and acknowledged that things might have been handled slightly differently ... "

The statistics: page 2. Can a black man get respect?