Equality and Human Rights Commission says BNP leader is refusing to obey orders to remove 'non-white' clause
Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, was accused of lying in the high court today during a showdown with the equality and human rights watchdog over the party's potentially discriminatory constitution.
The leader of the BNP had been due in court for the latest instalment of a legal battle that began last year when the party was ordered to remove from its constitution a clause banning non-white members. However, Griffin failed to show up for the hearing in central London because he was suffering from kidney stones and was in "extreme pain".
"This is a short-term health problem, and I expect to be fighting fit again soon," said Griffin from his hospital bed.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) accuses Griffin, Simon Darby, the BNP deputy, and party officer Tanya Lumby of failing to comply with a county court judgment earlier this year ordering the removal of potentially racist clauses from the BNP's constitution. The party faces a fine, hefty costs or possibly the sequestration of its assets if the court finds in favour of the EHRC.
Robin Allen QC, appearing for the watchdog, accused the BNP of "playing with" the commission and its officials instead of obeying the judgment. He added: "Our principle position is: [Griffin] is simply lying [when he says] he did not know the terms of the order."
Allen described Griffin as a "persistent offender" who had repeatedly failed to comply with various orders to change the constitution.
The BNP was forced to remove a "non-white" clause from its constitution last year after the courts ruled it breached discrimination laws. Then, in March, Judge Paul Collins found that the revised constitution was indirectly discriminatory because it required applicants to oppose "any form of integration or assimilation of ... the indigenous British", which the Equality and Human Rights Commission argued could not be endorsed by those in mixed-race relationships.
In addition, the revised document also required prospective members to submit to a two-hour vetting visit at their home by BNP officials, a clause that Collins ruled could be seen as intimidating for non-white applicants. He ordered both offending sections to be removed.
Griffin redrafted the BNP constitution once more, but the new version showed that the offending clauses had been slightly amended rather than removed. Today, the court heard that the passages had been "suspended" at the end of August, but still not deleted.
The hearing, which is expected to finish tomorrow, comes amid a series of setbacks for the BNP, which has been beset by infighting and resignations since its poor performance in May's general and local elections.
In September, its sole representative on the London assembly, Richard Barnbrook, became the latest figure to split publicly with Griffin when he was expelled by the party. There have also been growing concerns about the party's finances, after the BNP failed to comment on reports it was over £500,000 in debt.