Police chief's speech provokes race letters: Condon says objections to his comments on police combating racism shows depth of prejudice in society. Terry Kirby reports

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The Independent Online
PAUL CONDON, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has received a large number of offensive letters following a speech in which he called for the police service to be 'totally intolerant' of racism, it was disclosed yesterday.

Many of the letters objecting to his comments were from what Mr Condon described as 'people in authority', not just from the 'lunatic right'. He said they illustrated the depth of prejudice in society.

His comments were made during a meeting with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which were reported yesterday in the Jewish Chronicle. A spokeswoman for Mr Condon said the report related to a private meeting, but did not dispute the substance of his remarks.

Scotland Yard said it was not intending to investigate any of the letters for possible prosecution. Mr Condon also told the board that the police's powers to deal with racist and offensive literature were weak.

The speech to an equal opportunities conference in February by Mr Condon was his first major public platform since becoming Commissioner and surprised many observers by the force of its language. He said the service had a pivotal role to play in combating racist behaviour both in society and within the service itself.

He said: 'This is an area where we must be totally intolerant; intolerant of racially motivated attacks, intolerant of those who indulge in racial abuse and intolerant of those who use hatred and violence as the tools of their political expression.

'We must be equally intolerant of our own colleagues who fail to reach the required standards. We demand exemplary conduct from those we employ. We hold a position of trust in society and it has the right to expect the very best conduct from us.'

The Jewish Chronicle reported that Mr Condon said he had received hundreds of offensive letters in response. He was reported as saying: 'They were amazing and not just from the lunatic right, but from people in authority too. It is a reminder of how deep-seated the prejudices are.'

His spokeswoman said that by 'people in authority' Mr Condon was referring to professional people rather than those who might be public figures.

She said the Commissioner was not prepared to disclose the contents of the letters, which had been addressed privately to him. 'The Commissioner receives scores of letters every week on a variety of subjects, some of which are supportive and some are not. The Commissioner is very disappointed that some of the letters following the speech were not supportive of what he considers to be the correct views on the matter.'

Mr Condon repeated to the board warnings he had given in his speech that the kind of racist violence which has occurred in Germany could be repeated in Britain and was 'genuinely surprised' that there had been no copycat attacks.

He had not ruled out the idea of creating special squads to deal with racial violence. The force is investigating a number of racially motivated murders in south London.