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U.K.'s B.N.P. Leader Faces Racial Hatred Charge
By MARTIN WAINWRIGHT
The Guardian, Apr. 7, 2005
Photo: Nick Griffin
The leader and founder of the British National party will appear together before magistrates this morning accused of inciting racial hatred at party gatherings infiltrated by a T.V. documentary team.
Nick Griffin, 45, the Cambridge University graduate who has tried to give the rightwing group a respectable face, was charged by police yesterday alongside the veteran John Tyndall, 70, whose overtly extreme views were part of the B.N.P.'s early, less successful days.
Mr. Griffin, who is standing for the Keighley constituency at the general election, faces four counts of using words or behaviour likely to stir up racial hatred. He was arrested in December by West Yorkshire police at his home in Wales, as part of an inquiry which has seen 10 other B.N.P. members, including a council election candidate, arrested and bailed.
Mr. Tyndall, of Brighton, East Sussex, was also held in December as part of the investigation into revelations by the B.B.C. programme Secret Agent. He was charged with two offences allegedly committed in a speech, in March 2004, in Burnley where the B.N.P. has its largest group of local councillors.
A third man, Mark Collett, 24, a B.N.P. activist from Leeds, was charged with eight counts of inciting racial hatred and will appear before Leeds magistrates alongside Mr. Griffin and Mr. Tyndall.
Mr. Griffin was filmed in the hour-long programme, shown last July, describing Islam as a 'vicious wicked faith' which was a threat to British children. He was addressing a private party meeting in Keighley where the B.N.P. has been accused of hijacking a campaign that targeted paedophiles and pimps.
Other party members were recorded claiming that they had kicked British Asians during a demonstration, sprayed dog faeces into an Asian restaurant and had talked about blowing up a mosque.
The three men emerged defiantly yesterday from Halifax police station, where a crowd of about 250 party supporters waved flags and handmade posters denouncing an 'Islamicist Britain' and claiming that free speech was in peril.
Before driving off in a people carrier, escorted by burly activists, some in dark glasses, Mr. Griffin led the singing of Jerusalem, the William Blake poem more closely associated with the Women's Institute, and led a recital of the Lord's Prayer.
He also called on the crowd, mostly youngish men but with a fair number of women, older people and some teenagers, to repeat the demonstration outside court today.
While a core of supporters wrapped in St. George's flags, union flags and the Scottish saltire and lion, chanted 'Freedom, freedom,' Mr. Griffin repeated earlier claims that 'martyrdom' for free speech would sow electoral success for the B.N.P. He said he had been charged for speaking the truth, and relished the chance to defend his beliefs before his peers in court.
'It will depend on a jury whether I am found guilty and whether someone should be jailed for telling the truth,' he said, after giving a Churchillian V-sign to the crowd. 'But we have been told within the Crown Prosecution Service that this is a New Labour scam to win back the Muslim vote and it's likely to be dropped after the general election.'
The charges do not affect Mr. Griffin's legal right to stand for parliament, although he would not be eligible to serve as an M.P. if he were to be jailed - one of the possible penalties if he is convicted. He implied that he would risk this by continuing to speak out, even if prison was the result.
The B.N.P. has taken preliminary steps to appoint Simon Darby, the party's director of information technology, as caretaker leader if Mr. Griffin ends up in jail.
Before he went into the police station, Mr. Griffin said he had been told that charges were inevitable and that he and Mr. Tyndall would be bailed to the Leeds court.
He said: 'We don't know if it's a leak from within the Crown Prosecution Service but that's what we have been told.'
Mr. Griffin said before being charged that supporters might be goaded into rioting or attacking any counter-demonstrators, although the B.N.P. faced only a handful of jeers.
He said: 'This fast-tracking of a farcical legal system to interrupt the political campaign of a democratic political party is unprecedented. But we are not going to protest by rioting. We will leave that to the far left and the Muslims.'
The B.N.P. is expected to field between 100 and 120 candidates in the general election, compared with 33 in 2001.