Athletes' mail vetted for race hate poison

Police will vet all mail sent to Britain's leading athletes in the run-up to the Olympic Games, after the attempted murder of the white boyfriend of black triple-jumper Ashia Hansen and the sending of race hate letters to three black athletes.

Detectives believe the same men who stabbed Chris Cotter, Ms Hansen's partner, also mailed racist letters to the male athletes, who are not being identified.

Ms Hansen also received a similar letter, the words cut from newspapers and pasted in, the day after Mr Cotter was attacked by at least four white men, who also tried to scalp him. All four letters were signed WANO, thought to stand for "White Aryan Nazi Organisation", although police will not speculate on the existence of such a group.

The letters to the track-and-field stars were sent via the Birmingham headquarters of UK Athletics, the sports governing body, which unwittingly forwarded them. Ms Hansen's was posted to her home in Birmingham, scene of the attack on Mr Cotter on 21 March.

UK Athletics has responded by introducing new procedures to vet all post. All mail will be checked by West Midlands police before being passed on to athletes' home addresses. "We have now introduced procedures to filter this correspondence out," Chief Inspector Paul Diehl said yesterday.

A UK Athletics spokeswoman said 91 elite athletes have been sent a warning letter by police, advising them to be extra vigilant and to report anything suspicious. This summer, UK Athletics expects to send 80 athletes - of whom 40 per cent are likely to be black - to Sydney for the Olympics.

Many athletes are out of the country for their warm-weather spring training. But their whereabouts are known, thanks to a strict drug-testing regime which requires all athletes to notify UK Athletics of their movements.

"We are advising our athletes to be vigilant and to take any threats or concerns very seriously and inform the police," said the spokeswoman. "Any mail that comes in for athletes is being kept back for police to check through."

The race hate campaign coincides with a British bid to host the world indoor athletics championships in Birmingham in 2003 and the world athletics championships in 2005 in London.

Leading UK Athletics' officials were in Paris yesterday, putting their case to the International Amateur Athletic Federation. They do not believe the race campaign will harm the chances of hosting either event.