London police chief apologises

Published on Jan 28, 2006 12:48 PM IST

Ian Blair apologised for saying he could not understand why murder of the Soham schoolgirls had attracted so much media attention.

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None | ByReuters, London

London police chief Ian Blair on Friday "unreservedly apologised" for saying he could not understand why the murder of the Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman had attracted so much media attention.

Blair told a meeting on Thursday of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), which oversees the capital's force, "almost nobody can understand why that dreadful story became the biggest story in Britain."

Wells and Chapman, both 10, were murdered in the Cambridgeshire village in August 2002 by school caretaker Ian Huntley. Their bodies were found after a desperate two-week search which attracted global media attention.

The comments provoked wide criticism.

"He couldn't understand that this one became the biggest story in Britain -- well I can," MPA member Richard Barnes told BBC television.

"It was two little girls who got murdered, who were missing, who were reported missing for 10 days by their local police."

Blair, Britain's most senior police officer, acknowledged that he made a mistake over the Soham case.

"I have to unreservedly apologise to anyone connected to the Soham murders especially the parents of Holly and Jessica for reigniting this story," he told BBC radio on Friday.

"It was not intended to diminish the significance of this dreadful crime."

He said he stood by other controversial statements that the UK media was "institutionally racist" and treated the murders of whites and ethnic minorities differently.

The phrase "institutionally racist" has a particular resonance for London police after the force was described in the same terms by an inquiry into its failures to solve 1993 murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Blair said the media had given far more attention to the recent murder of white London lawyer Tom ap Rhys Pryce who was stabbed to death by robbers than an Asian man killed by two car thieves or a black woman chopped to pieces in south London.

"What drives a news story? There is no doubt that gender and race have an impact," he said.

"There are a very large number of murders inside the black community that get almost no coverage at all.

"It is very difficult to explain to the families who see the differential media coverages as indicative of police interest."

Blair, who took charge of London's 30,000-strong force last February, has always had an uneasy relationship with the press.

Many commentators accuse him of being too politically correct, dubbing him the "PC Pc (police constable)".

His open support for the introduction of national identity cards in the run-up to last May's election provoked condemnation as the scheme formed a key part of Prime Minister Tony Blair election manifesto.

Then, after initially being widely praised for his force's investigation into the London bomb attacks on July 7, he was accused of misleading the public over comments he made in the aftermath of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

An independent watchdog is investigating statements that de Menezes, who was mistaken for a potential suicide bomber by anti-terrorist police, had been shot because he was behaving suspiciously and had refused to obey officers' instructions.

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