Tory spokesman in row over `black boys' remark

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A TORY frontbencher and former police officer was accused of gratuitously insulting black people yesterday when he described three suspects who mugged the driver of his daughter's wedding car as "coloured boys".

John Greenway outraged Labour MPs by recounting how the driver of the vintage taxi, which was to take himself and his daughter to her wedding in the Commons chapel, was attacked by three black teenagers.

Oona King, the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said the remarks made by the Tory home affairs spokesman and former Metropolitan Police officer were deeply offensive.

"I do not describe Conservative MPs as white MPs. You are MPs and could you please recognise the anger you cause when you do that - it is quite disgraceful," she said.

Iain Coleman, the Labour MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, condemned Mr Greenway's remarks as a "gratuitous insult" to black people.

"I find it quite staggering and breathtaking that as we approach the millennium, on the sensitive issue of policing in London, a Conservative frontbench speaker can come to this House and refer to members of the black community and not even realise that he was being deeply offensive."

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, stood by Mr Greenway. She said: "Crime is carried out by all sections of the community both white and black. It is unreasonable to suppose that you can comment on one but not the other. Too much political correctness destroys rather than promotes good race relations."

Tony McNulty, a Labour MP, said the fact that the remarks were made by a former police officer was evidence of the unconscious police racism identified by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny's report into the handling of the investigation of the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence. "I know it was inadvertent but that's the point. The point is not just that you were an ex-police officer, the point is in the Metropolitan Police, as Macpherson showed, there is a deep, latent culture that is racist and they don't know it's racist," he said.

Mr Greenway made his remarks during a debate on policing in London. The driver was mugged outside Mr Greenway's home in Kennington, south London, he said. "While the gentleman who drove the car had been waiting for the appropriate time to come and knock on my door to say, `We've arrived, Mr Greenway to take you and your daughter to the House of Commons', three young black boys - 15 or 16 - on mountain bikes jumped into his cab and robbed him of his bag, his money, his wallet and his driving licence."

After protests, the MP said: "It does no one any good just to try and hide this point." And after Labour MPs shouted "disgraceful" Mr Greenway responded: "The point that I have made is that three 16-year-old coloured boys ... ." Despite protests he continued: "... black boys, black boys. The fact that the police know who these people are also adds to the situation that we have to face."