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OJ Simpson court hears detective's racist insults

The racial undercurrents of the OJ Simpson trial heaved to the surface yesterday after Judge Lance Ito unsealed tapes of a slew of ethnic slurs uttered by a principal prosecution witness, former police detective Mark Fuhrman.

His scratchy voice filling the Los Angeles courtroom as the tapes were played, Mr Fuhrman was heard referring repeatedly to black Americans as "niggers", and coolly recounting occasions when as a member of the Los Angeles police force he beat up suspects, and in one case even felt the urge to commit murder.

Judge Ito ordered the tapes unsealed and played in the courtroom yesterday to allow him to determine whether the jury, which was not present, should be permitted to hear them. Defence attorneys said they contained more than 40 uses of the "nigger" epithet.

The tapes were recordings of interviews given by Mr Fuhrman 10 years ago to Laura Hart McKinny, a screenwriter and academic from North Carolina, who planned to use them as research for a fictional account of the difficulties faced by women working in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

In one tape, Mr Fuhrman described working on the force as akin to "standing on top of a bunch of bodies, I mean, that's just the way you feel. You know, you got 200 niggers just trying to take you prisoner". Some of Mr Fuhrman's remarks were available only in transcripts, because Ms McKinny had inadvertently recorded over some of the original tapes.

Mr Fuhrman, who retired last month, testified earlier in the trial to finding a bloody glove on the sports legend's property the morning after Mr Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were stabbed to death outside Ms Simpson's condominium.

The defence team have long claimed that Mr Fuhrman is a racist who was capable of planting the evidence against Mr Simpson. When on the stand, Mr Fuhrman told the defence lawyer, F Lee Bailey, that he had never used the term "nigger" in the last 10 years. When Mr Bailey asked: "Are you as sure of that as you are of finding the glove?" he replied "Yes".

The bloody glove is not the only piece of evidence presented by the prosecution and the impact of yesterday's revelations on the course of the case itself remains unclear.

But because the tapes and transcripts were released to open court and thus by the media to the US public, they may have an explosive effect on the streets of Los Angeles, where racial tensions are always present. The LAPD was swift to announce its own investigation.

In the transcripts Mr Fuhrman expresses his distaste for the recruitment policies in the LAPD at that time. "We got females and dumb niggers and all your Mexicans who can't even write the name of the car they drive".