BNP supporters were demonstrating outside a police station today after its members were arrested for stirring up racial hatred in a town riven by race riots. Four men were held this morning after a police investigation over the distribution of leaflets in Burnley, Lancashire, branding Muslims responsible for the heroin trade. Police would not say if the four were BNP members - the party said two were members in the local area.
Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right party, is visiting the town today, to protest outside Burnley Police station at the "persecution" of its members arrested after "Gestapo-like dawn raids" by police.
Today's arrests come after the publication of a list of more than 12,000 BNP supporters was leaked on the internet - which allegedly includes a serving police officer, a vicar and a prison officer.
Each of the leaflets features a harrowing photo of Rachel Whitear, 21, who was found dead at her flat in Exmouth, Devon, in May 2000, holding a syringe. The photo of Rachel made national headlines after her parents agreed for it to be released to warn other youngsters of the dangers of drugs.
Rachel's mother, Pauline Holcroft, 58, of Ledbury, Herefordshire, later said the leaflets were "insulting and offensive".
The leaflet was distributed to homes in Burnley - which suffered race riots in 2001 - and is also reportedly circulating in other parts of Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. It says people should "heap condemnation" on Muslims and that it is time for them to "apologise" as it claims they are responsible for 95% of the world's heroin trade. The leaflets, which first appeared around March, were first distributed by a former BNP candidate, according to the party's website.
Burnley has a high proportion of Asian residents. It also has four British National Party councillors sitting on the borough council.
A spokesman for Lancashire Police said: "A 41-year-old man from Burnley, a 43-year-old man from Blackburn, a 53-year-old man from Preston and a 57-year-old man from Nelson were all arrested today on suspicion of the publication and distribution of written material intended to stir up racial hatred and the possession of racially inflammatory material. They will be questioned by detectives at Burnley Police Station during the course of the day."
In a separate development, police called in independent investigators today to look into claims that a serving officer is on the list of leaked members of the BNP. The list was removed from the original blog where it was published but remains available on other websites.
According to the BNP, the published list is based on its 2007 membership list although a number of names of people who were not, or are not party members had allegedly been added. Earlier this year, the party obtained an injunction at the High Court in Manchester banning any publication of the list.