British police chief apologizes for remark in criticism of press murder coverage

London's police commissioner apologized on Friday for a comment he made while criticizing the news media for spending more time covering the murders of white people than those of minorities. On Thursday, Sir Ian Blair, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said in a speech to police, "I actually believe that the media is guilty of institutional racism in the way they report deaths." He highlighted the recent murder of 31-year-old lawyer Tom ap Rhys Pryce, who was stabbed to death this month after being mugged near his London home.

By contrast, Blair said, the murder of Balbir Matharu, an Asian man and the father of two children, who was dragged to his death by two car-stereo thieves the same day, received little press coverage.

"That death of the young lawyer was terrible, but an Asian man was dragged to his death, a woman was chopped up in Lewisham, a chap shot in the head in a Trident murder they got a paragraph on page 97," Blair said.

He also said in the speech that "almost nobody" could understand why the murder of two 10-year-old white school girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, in the town of Soham in 2002 had become "the biggest story in Britain."

Blair was criticized for that part of his speech, and on Friday he apologized for it. "First of all, I obviously have to unreservedly apologize to anyone connected to the Soham murders, especially the parents of Holly and Jessica, for reigniting the story," Blair said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio Friday. "It was not intended to diminish the significance of this dreadful crime, which is exactly how I described it yesterday."

Blair's critics had included Bob McLachlan, former head of the Metropolitan Police's pedophile unit. In an interview with The Sun newspaper, McLachlan said: "Sir Ian Blair has abused the memory of those two girls for his own political purpose. He has totally lost the plot. How can this man lead people to devote their lives to protecting children? Soham was rightly a big story. Society was horrified. It was every parent's nightmare."

Shy Keenan, from the Phoenix Survivors group for abused children, also told the newspaper: "Soham was a landmark moment. The system failed those girls. I cannot think of a more important story. If Sir Ian cannot understand that, he should never have been a policeman."

A man, Ian Huntley, was convicted of murdering Wells and Chapman in Soham after admitting that he had tried to set the bodies of the girls on fire and dumped them in a ditch. He was jailed for a minimum of 40 years. The investigation of the killings and Huntley's trial and conviction dominated the British news media for months, reports the AP.


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