Ken Livingstone is facing an inquiry which could lead to his removal as Mayor of London after he defied demands to apologise yesterday for comparing a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard.
Despite calls from Holocaust survivors and his own Labour Party colleagues to say sorry, the Mayor remained unmoved by the outcry over his remarks, saying he could not say "words I do not believe in my heart".
Mr Livingstone's steadfast refusal to climb down in his row with the Evening Standard newspaper led to a formal complaint about his behaviour from Jewish leaders to the local government watchdog, the Standards Board for England.
An investigator will now decide within 10 days whether the Mayor should face a formal inquiry which could lead to him being banned from public office for five years if he is found guilty of misconduct.
The complaint came as the political pressure on Mr Livingstone mounted and a day after the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, said that an apology was in order. A vote was passed by all parties in the Greater London Assembly calling for the remarks to be withdrawn and Holocaust survivors presented a petition to the Mayor asking for an apology.
But Mr Livingstone claimed he had been the subject of a 24-year hate campaign by Associated Newspapers, owner of the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail. He said: "I could apologise but why should I say words I do not believe in my heart? Therefore I cannot. If that is something people find they cannot accept I am sorry but this is how I feel after nearly a quarter of a century of their behaviour and tactics."
The Mayor later added: "The Holocaust was the uniquely monstrous racial crime of the 20th century. I have spent my entire life fighting against racism - whether against Jewish people, black people, Asians or anyone else."
Mr Livingstone became embroiled in the row with an Evening Standard reporter, Oliver Finegold, a week ago. On a tape of the fracas, the Mayor is heard asking the journalist if he is a "German war criminal" because he worked for Associated Newspapers. After Mr Finegold replies that he is Jewish, the Mayor compares him to a "concentration camp guard".
Mr Livingstone's discomfort was increased yesterday by a concerted attempt to extract an apology at an emergency session of the assembly. Nicky Gavron, the Labour deputy mayor and daughter of a Holocaust survivor, said: "These were inappropriate words and very offensive, both to the individual and to Jews in London."
Gena Turgel, a Holocaust survivor who attended the hearing, rejected the Mayor's complaint that members of his family had been harassed by the media. She said: "I am shocked. There is no comparison between what Mr Livingstone's family have gone through and what ours suffered."Reuse content