The British National Party’s election agent for Barking in last year’s general election could face prosecution for falsely stating a printing bill for election leaflets had been paid after he accepted a brazen lie from the party’s treasurer.
Richard Barnbrook, who at the time was the BNP’s London Assembly member, included bills from Newton Press in the return of election expenses that he submitted to the Barking returning officer on behalf of Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, and marked them as paid. Election law requires all a candidates’ expenses to be paid within 28 days.
Not only had the bill not been paid within 28 days, but Newton Press, a small printer in County Durham, is still waiting for its money. According to Eddy Butler, a former BNP officer who is campaigning for Griffin’s removal as leader, the BNP has refused to pay the firm around £15,000 that it owes for various printing services, including issues of the party’s paper Voice of Freedom.
Newton Press did not take the BNP’s no for an answer and established that around £6,000 of the bill was for newspapers delivered in Barking and that Barnbrook had accepted responsibility as Griffin’s agent. Making a false election expenses declaration can carry a prison sentence of up to one year or an unlimited fine or both unless the High Court accepts there was “reasonable cause” for the failure.
Barnbrook, who resigned the BNP whip last summer and now sits on the London Assembly as an independent, duly applied to the High Court. Yesterday Mr Justice Tugendhat rejected Barnbrook’s plea that the false return was not his fault because Dave Hannam, the party treasurer, had provided him with invoices falsely stamped “paid”. The agent is expected to be in real and genuine control of election expenditure, Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled, and Barnbrook should have made certain that the invoices had in fact been paid before signing off the return.
Mr Justice Tugendhat, who four years ago threw out a BNP candidate’s vexatious libel claim against Searchlight, has referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, as election law requires, which means Barnbrook is likely to end up with a criminal conviction. According to Butler, Barnbrook, who “demeaned himself by touting himself around to various parties” in an attempt to get onto a London Assembly list that will secure his re-election in 2012, is now trying to return to the BNP.
The DPP could also proceed against Griffin as the candidate and agent are jointly responsible for the accuracy of the expenses return.
The BNP’s problems are unlikely to stop with Newton Press. The party has debts of over £500,000 including to several other printers money. Romac Press, the Belfast firm that printed the party’s main general election leaflets is owed £45,000, which means that election expenses returns in several constituencies were probably false.
After the European election in 2009, it emerged that most of the party’s election bills had been paid by Adlorries.com Ltd, a company owned by Jim Dowson, the party’s fundraising consultant who ended up controlling most of the BNP’s assets. Griffin’s party had to repay the “loan” over several months.
The BNP’s continuing inability to pay its debts and readiness to lie means that any candidate or election agent will be personally at risk if they use election leaflets supplied by the party. Butler has called on BNP members not to stand as a candidate or act as an agent while Griffin is chairman.
Hannam, who was widely derided in the BNP as incompetent, is no longer BNP treasurer, replaced after less than eight months in the job by the moronic Clive Jefferson on his rapid rise through the party. Lying seemed to come naturally to Hannam. Last summer he boasted that the BNP’s financial controls now ensured that “all legally required statement [sic] of accounts are submitted on time”. The next day it emerged that the party had failed to submit its 2009 accounts to the Electoral Commission by the deadline of 7 July, the third time it had been late.
In 2007, when Hannam was deputy treasurer, Ian Dawson wrote in his letter of resignation from his position as the party’s head of group support: “Hannam has messed things up from day one, before he got ‘bogged down’ in an audit, during it, and after it. If he worked in a bank he would not last a week. Not only is he incompetent, he also lies. Again, this can be proved time and time again, yet it seems that no matter how much some people lie, and however big the lies are, they get away with it. I can’t think of one thing that Dave does well – if there is something I have not seen it. That is not an exaggeration or an unnecessary insult, it is a fact.”
Griffin seems unconcerned about the latest blow to his party. In the week when nominations are due for the local elections in May and many party members are already refusing to stand in protest at his leadership, he is sunning himself on holiday in Cyprus. Rumour has it that Griffin, who may be held personally liable for the BNP’s debts, is looking for a bolthole in Northern Cyprus, which has no extradition treaty with the UK.
Hope not hate