The British National Party learned the hard way that exploiting and cheating its own supporters has unpleasant consequences, when two days before polling day its webmaster removed the BNP website from the internet
Simon Bennett replaced the site, which received more visitors than any other political party website, with a brief statement accusing the party of “several attempts of theft today with regards to design work and content owned by myself”. He also claimed that Arthur Kemp and Jim Dowson, two close aides to Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, had threatened violence against him and his family.
Bennett’s action meant that supporters could no longer make online donations or membership applications. For the first time for many months, BNP e-news bulletins came without a donation button.
Bennett had been in dispute with Dowson, the convicted criminal who in effect owns the BNP, for a year, but matters came to a head when Griffin insisted, against Bennett’s advice, on adding an image of a jar of Marmite to a version of the BNP’s television election broadcast pre-released on the party website.
After Unilever responded by launching proceedings over copyright infringement, Griffin and Dowson realised they had underestimated the severity of the legal and financial consequences and came up with pathetic excuses, such as a claim that a “joker” had amended the film. When Unilever’s lawyers refused to believe them, Bennett says he was expected “to go to court and lie through my teeth in order to bail them out of a ridiculous hole they had dug themselves into”.
Griffin and Dowson had misjudged Bennett. Unlike they themselves and their more sycophantic supporters, Bennett “was not prepared to spend five years in prison for perjury just to protect the financial interests of fools” and told Unilever’s lawyers the truth.
Bennett had refused to do their bidding so Griffin and Dowson wanted him out. Bennett was prepared to go but wanted to be paid for his website design work. Claiming he had invested around £40,000 into the site, he said he was not prepared simply to hand it over to Griffin and Dowson so that they could use it to make more money. “It was my bloody hard work, commitment and money that developed that site into the success it became,” wrote Bennett, “and for Dowson to try and force control of it for his own advantage made me feel sick.”
Money is what it is all about – not for Bennett but for Griffin and Dowson, who, Bennett claims, is paid £120,000 a year by the party. As Searchlight already knew from other sources, Bennett’s dispute with Dowson started over the fact that the telesales staff at Dowson’s call centre earned commission from subscriptions and party memberships and so were telling party members not to renew their membership on the website because it was “unsafe and had been hacked”.
Bennett complained to Griffin who said he would look into it. Shortly afterwards he was contacted by the call centre manager, Kate Hunt, and Dowson. A heated exchange ended with Dowson threatening: “I am a Glasgow/Belfast man as you are about to find out. I was patient simon [sic] but you crossed the line sir, its time some manners were put on you.”
Bennett had crossed Dowson and could not win. As Bennett says in his statement, confirming the conclusions of Searchlight’s investigations: “Jim Dowson now controls just about every aspect of the party structure (including the recently acquired print services) and also the party’s finances with one exception. You’ve guessed it – the website!”
By the Sunday after election day the BNP had a new website up and running, set up by Chris Barnett who, Bennett says, used to run a web server for an online pornographic studio in Birmingham. But the story was not over. Bennett also had control of the party’s Facebook site, with its nearly 26,000 members, and its Twitter feed. He now linked them to a new website of his own on which he exposed Dowson’s financial dealings with the BNP and called for reform of the party.
As well as setting up his own site Bennett posted on various far-right internet forums, disclosing the nefarious ways the BNP operates. On one he revealed that Kemp, the BNP’s website editor who had moved through a variety of party posts, had also threatened Bennett and had once opposed Griffin.
“He threatened to drive to Cornwall, rip my head off off and shove it up my @rse,” wrote Bennett. “I expected better of him too, but I noticed the change in his anti-griffin attitude once he started ‘fund-raising’ for our best friend Jim. From that day on he became very pro-Jim and pro-griffin, even though he knew they planned his downfall at the EU election planning meeting in 2008. They humiliated him, stripped him of his position, income and dignity. He suffered it for over a year until he was offered a scrap of food which he grabbed with both hands and stabbed me in the back to get to it.”
Bennett also removed Griffin’s personal MEP’s website though not the similar websites he runs for Andrew Brons, the BNP’s other MEP, and Richard Barnbrook, the party’s London Assembly member, with whom he has no dispute.
The BNP has taken legal proceedings against Bennett, presumably paid for out of members’ donations, but that has not silenced him. Bennett is gradually adding to his new website, which is likely to become a centre for any moves to oust Griffin from the BNP leadership in the coming months.