The list, which purports to be a snapshot of the party's support in April this year, includes the names, addresses, postcodes and telephone numbers of people who have signed up to the far-right group, including the grade of membership assigned by the party – Standard, Family, Family Plus, Gold, OAP, and Unwaged.
This list was leaked to a website, which insisted today that it was genuine, and that it intended to publish the information tomorrow.
Today the BNP seemed unaware of the potential disclosure and said it appeared to have been timed to undermine the party ahead of its leader Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time on Thursday. Today the political row about the BBC's decision to invite him on to the programme intensified, with the corporation refusing to bow to pressure from a cabinet minister to cancel Griffin's appearance.
The apparent disclosure of a membership list will add to the controversy surrounding the party. The Guardian has seen the list but could not verify its authenticity. It appears to show that:
- The BNP had 11,560 members as of April this year, including one peer;
- The party appears to have benefited from a surge in female recruits – one in eight of the party's members are now women;
- The highest concentrations of membership lie in Leicestershire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire.
In November 2008, a list of members' names, addresses, contact details and sometimes jobs and hobbies was leaked by disgruntled members, who were said to have become frustrated that the party had become too soft under Griffin. That list was widely circulated on the internet and last month 37-year-old former BNP member Matthew Single, appearing before Nottingham magistrates, admitted leaking the data and was fined £200 for breaching the Data Protection Act.
In December 2006, an undercover investigation by the Guardian revealed that the organisation's members included Simone Clarke, then a ballerina for the English National Ballet.
A spokesman for the website which is proposing to publish the list said today it wanted to reveal the membership data in order to provoke a debate in the UK about why people want to become members of the BNP.
A BNP spokesman said it considered any publication of its internal membership data to be a criminal offence under the Data Protection Act.
"This is an example of the perpetual hatred and vilification we face," said BNP deputy chairman Simon Darby. "The public will look at this and think it is another example of persecution of the BNP and wonder what on earth the establishment is frightened of."
Griffin will become the party's first representative to appear on Question Time on Thursday evening, when he will face fellow panellists including justice secretary Jack Straw. The BBC's invitation to Griffin has caused outrage and today the Welsh secretary, Peter Hain, called on the broadcaster to withdraw the invitation because the BNP is currently "an unlawful body" after the party told a court last week it would have to amend its whites-only membership rules to meet discrimination legislation.
The BNP claimed the publication of the list was timed to sabotage the impact of its Question Time appearance. Darby said BNP officials are currently examining ways to capitalise on the platform.
The last time BNP data was published, it emerged that teachers, policemen and former members of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats had signed up. Several dozen of them admitted to being members and were named in the press. The latest list suggests that at least 19 of those members have now left the party.