Racist myths a danger

URBAN myths are often entertaining but sometimes dangerous.We've all heard about the couple who pick up a hitchhiker and then discover they've given a lift to an axe murderer.

URBAN myths are often entertaining but sometimes dangerous.

We've all heard about the couple who pick up a hitchhiker and then discover they've given a lift to an axe murderer.

But there's one particularly unsavoury myth buzzing around Ipswich at the moment.

We've had several calls at The Evening Star about a group of asylum seekers who have been calling at garages – or scouring our "cars for sale" pages – looking to buy a used vehicle.

When they see one they like, they produce a cheque from the county council, or the DHSS, or the Benefits Agency – depending on who you hear the story from.

We've had several calls about this – either from people who are "too afraid" to give us their name.

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Or they've come from people who were told the story by someone they were chatting to even though they don't know the name of the person.

Usually at some stage in the call you hear the phrase: "I'm not racist but . . ."

We've checked with the county council. They say they have never ever given money for anyone, let alone asylum seekers, to buy cars.

We've checked with the Benefits Agency which now handles benefits for the Department of Work and Pensions. We've got a similar reply from them.

They've acutally heard the same rumour circulating all over the region – from Norwich, Luton, Cambridge, Peterborough, Chelmsford and Bedford.

The DHSS has changed its name twice, so the people who say they know it's true because they've seen the DHSS cheque are years behind the times.

What worries me is where this story started – was it started maliciously, as a way of spreading ill-feeling about asylum seekers?

Clearly a lot of well-meaning people have been duped into believing the stories which have taken on a life of their own.

As James Callaghan once said: "A lie can be half way around the world before the truth has got its boots on."

LOVE or hate his politics, it's difficult not to have a sneaking admiration for Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer.

I went along to a meeting I knew he was addressing last week – just in case he said something interesting and, frankly, because he's been a bit difficult for us to track down lately.

He spotted me at the back as soon as he arrived, and after an interesting question-and-answer session with Suffolk Coastal councillors, made his way from the meeting.

I caught up with him in the corridor – although to be honest he clearly wasn't running.

"I hear you want me to retire, Paul," he said with a beaming smile, and then told me exactly why he planned to carry on in the House of Commons.

He was in a very chatty mood and clearly determined to carry on in frontline politics for as long as possible.

Mr Gummer is 63 now – that's 20 years old than me.

I just hope I have the same bounce and energy that he has when I'm that age – or is it just that he has an interesting portrait in his attic like Dorian Gray?

SUFFOLK County Council has a new chief spin-doctor, although Ann Bailey is very keen to avoid that description!

She's taken over as head of communications at the council and will now be trying to spread the word about the largest employer in the county.

Ann lives near the Suffolk/Norfolk border, although her accent remains more North American than North Suffolk.

"I was born in Philadelphia," she explained. "But I've been in Britain 11 years – I married a Brit and I'm settled here."

During that time she's worked as publicity chief for Safeway and has run her own consultancy firm.

Now she has to manage the communications for the county council.

"This is a big organisation which has a lot to do with everyone's life in the county. I don't see the job as being a spin doctor, it is to just keep everyone – both inside and outside the council – in touch with what is going on," she told me.

LAST week when the midlands was hit by a minor earthquake, Edwina Currie was presenting her late-night Radio Five show – which is also broadcast on local radio – from studios in Birmingham.

"Did the earth move for you?" She asked the audience as the studio shook.

Now when had she used that line before?

While on the same subject, everyone in the Star office was amused by a news agency report which came in on Monday morning.

"Edwina Currie turned on John Major . . ." it began, telling of how she was upset by his comments.

It was just that the introduction was so accurate!

A FINAL word on the shaming of Jeffrey – sorry Lord – Archer.

After denying everything for years, and even appealing against his conviction and sentence, Archer has finally coughed up the money he won in his 1986 libel case.

That is the nearest we'll get to an admission by this man.

But while the £2 million it allegedly cost him is no doubt an inconvenience, spared a thought for Lloyd Turner.

He was the editor of the Daily Star at the time of the libel. He was sacked, and then died comparatively young – never to see the final acts of the drama.

It would be too much to expect Lord Archer to have the decency to apologise to his family, wouldn't it!