'Offensive' open letter stirs call for resignation

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The Independent Online
A FRESH racism row was threatening the Liberal Democrats last night over a councillor's open letter which was posted on public noticeboards.

The letter, by Tom Dommett, a Somerset county councillor, said: 'If people break the law, then they should be dealt with fairly and impartially by the law, whether they be New Age Travellers, Gypsies, Yids, Nig-Nogs, Ities, Pakis, unemployed . . . '

Political opponents wrote to Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, complaining about its racist tone and demanding that Mr Dommett resign his seat. Mr Ashdown's office said it could not react until the substance of the complaints were known.

The letter to Middlezoy Transit Site Action Group, which is protesting against local authority plans to build a camp for travellers near the village, appears to demand equal treatment of all groups in society.

The action group's leader, Nobby Turner, said he was stunned when he saw the letter which arrived last Saturday, and was posted on notice boards at Middlezoy, Othery and Westernzoyland.

'The comments are extremely racist and offensive,' Mr Turner said. 'It's not enough to say he's sorry. It's a bit like murdering someone and saying 'Sorry'. I'm demanding he resign.'

Alan Ham, the council's Tory leader, said: 'It's quite deplorable that a letter like this can be sent around. It was quite offensive and shows a particularly insensitive attitude, at least as far as this councillor is concerned.'

Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, maintained that the episode betrayed a deep-rooted problem within the Liberal-Democrat party.

'The words are in totally bad taste,' he said. 'They show that Paddy Ashdown's problems are far from confined to Tower Hamlets. What is clear is that in large parts of the country the Liberal-Democrats remain a haven for maverick eccentrics.'

Mr Dommett, elected just six months ago, insisted his intention had been to convey a sense of irony by using language used in everyday conversation. In his retraction, he said: 'With the benefit of consideration, I believe some of my comments are capable of a different interpretation to my intentions. On this basis, I withdraw without reservation all comments.'