An attempt by the Equality Commission to imprison the British National Party leader Nick Griffin was adjourned [yesterday] for two months.
Griffin and two former BNP officers, Simon Darby and Tanya Lumby, are accused of failing to remove potentially racist clauses from the party’s constitution. Although the party agreed in February to open membership to non-whites, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) believes that the party still discriminates on racial grounds.
Under the party constitution members have to agree with and support the party’s principles, which include several references to the “indigenous British”. Members who want to vote at party meetings and leadership elections also have to agree to home visits by local party officers, a requirement that may be intimidatory to ethnic minority members.
The CEHR action against the BNP began last autumn at a time when the racist party’s constitution banned non-white members. It forced the BNP to bar new members for over four months while it prevaricated over complying with race equality laws.
Eddy Butler, the BNP’s former national organiser, who last month mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Griffin’s leadership of the party, has said that Griffin could have saved the party tens of thousands of pounds in legal costs had he bowed down to the inevitable outcome at the start.
Today’s proceedings were the result of an application by the CEHR to commit Griffin, Darby and Lumby to prison or be fined for disobeying an order made by the Central London County Court on 12 March to remove two clauses from the BNP’s new constitution because they were indirectly racist. The judge, Paul Collins, also banned the BNP from admitting new members until it had changed the constitution, an order that the party ignored.
Griffin has taken every opportunity to portray himself as a martyr, prepared to go to prison for his cause, to persuade supporters to give yet more money to the financially strapped party. Although he defended himself in court, his desperate begging letters claimed the party needed to raise £30,000 “to make the necessary arrangements to defend our party” and its officers.
Presumably it was an attempt to appeal to his more illiterate supporters that resulted in the heading on one letter “Tommorrow [sic] is our D-Day” in round two against the “Equalities Commisson [sic]”.
In fact, even as he told supporters that he would “cherish my incarceration as an honour on your behalf”, he knew very well that he was not going to prison today. In an interview on the BNP’s website on 3 September, Clive Jefferson, the party’s national elections officer and close colleague of Griffin, claimed, albeit incorrectly, that the party had already won the case because the CEHR had withdrawn the action, leaving only an argument over costs.
At the High Court Mrs Justice Nicola Davies ruled that the cases against the three should be heard by two judges and adjourned them for a two-day hearing starting on 8 November. She laid down a strict timetable for submission of legal argument and evidence before the hearing, in view of Griffin’s very late submission of documents throughout the proceedings. Even his skeleton argument for today’s hearing was only presented yesterday afternoon.
Griffin had turned up half an hour late with his minder, Martin Reynolds, and other BNP security officers claiming it had taken him three and a half hours to get from the East End to court. Several other BNP members turned up in his support, either sitting in the public gallery of the court or on a demonstration outside in the Strand.
Also there, but keeping their distance, were Butler and a number of those who had supported his leadership challenge, including Richard Edmonds, a founder member of the BNP who was suspended from membership for revealing the huge sum the party paid its fundraising and management consultant, the convicted criminal Jim Dowson.
During the hearing Griffin was accompanied by Patrick Harrington, the leader of the rival Third Way party, whom the BNP employs in a staff management role alongside Adam Walker, the disgraced former teacher, who was also in court. Harrington, who acts as general secretary of the BNP’s fake trade union Solidarity, has represented several BNP members at tribunal hearings, sometimes successfully.
Jefferson had come all the way from Cumbria to support Griffin, though it is unlikely he understood much of the proceedings. Bob Bailey, who recently lost his position as London regional organiser, a role now filled by Griffin himself, was welcomed by Darby in particular.
Doubtless Griffin will use the two-month respite to try and raise more money to help the BNP pay off its liabilities, believed to stand at £600,000 and rising. The party claims to have received £23,000 as a result of its latest appeal, so it has a long way to go if it is to stave off insolvency proceedings by its creditors.
Hope not hate