Met chief apologises for Soham comments

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Sir Ian Blair, the country's most senior police chief, apologised today for saying that "almost nobody" could understand why the Soham murders became "the biggest story in Britain".

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said he was sorry for his remarks about the murders of the two 10-year-old schoolgirls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, which have attracted widespread criticism.

He cited the case yesterday at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority, in which he accused the media of "institutional racism" over its reporting of murders.

But speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said: "First of all, I obviously have to unreservedly apologise to anyone connected to the Soham murders, especially the parents of Holly and Jessica, for reigniting the story.

"It was not intended to diminish the significance of this dreadful crime, which is exactly how I described it yesterday."

Sir Ian said his remarks had come during a discussion at the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), the body which oversees his force, over whether more resources were allocated to high profile murders.

This, he insisted, was a "fair discussion" to have at a public meeting, particularly as it was in response to concerns raised by the deputy chair of the authority over the issue.

The commissioner highlighted the extensive coverage given to the murder of the young City lawyer Tom ap Rhys Pryce in comparison to sparse coverage given to the murder of Balbir Matharu, an Asian man who was dragged to his death by two car stereo thieves on the same day.

"The two murders you have described have been treated entirely differently by the media," Sir Ian told the Today programme.

"It is difficult to explain to the families who see the differential media coverage as indicative of police interest.

"It is really a question of what is it that drives the news agenda, that drives a story?"

There was "no doubt", he said, that race had an impact.

Exceptions included the murders of the two sisters in Birmingham, the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence and that of schoolboy Damilola Taylor.

The commissioner added: "There are a large number of murders inside the black community that get almost no coverage at all."

Criticism of Sir Ian's remarks over Soham came from Bob McLachlan, former head of the Met's paedophile unit, who told The Sun: "Sir Ian Blair has abused the memory of those two girls for his own political purpose.

"He has totally lost the plot. How can this man lead people to devote their lives to protecting children? Soham was rightly a big story. Society was horrified. It was every parent's nightmare."