Marion Thomas has won her employment tribunal against the BNP. Surprisingly, after three days of public embarrassment and allegations the tribunal did not take the initially quoted six weeks to reach its decision. The tribunal concluded that Mrs Thomas was "automatically unfairly dismissed for non-compliance with the statutory dismissal procedure".
This tribunal was held earlier this month. It had two missing ingredients: the real protagonists. This case was always about Nick Griffin, the increasingly desperate and unpopular leader of the far-right BNP, and his one time financial crutch, guru and indeed ‘consigliere’, Jim Dowson. Both Griffin and his daughter Jennifer Matthys were criticised by the panel for failing to attend.
Instead, the employment tribunal at Killymead House, conveniently sandwiched between Belfast’s Republican Short Strand and Loyalist Donegal Pass, had to make do with second best. It’s a shame really, as this was the perfect geographical location for a no holds barred, all encompassing exploration of how the BNP crushed ideologies, shattered political ambitions and in no small way, descended into acrimonious tribal conflict and civil war.
Both the meteoric rise and the final devastating fall of the BNP were orchestrated here in Belfast in that fateful tie up between Griffin’s BNP and Jim Dowson. The basis of the unfair dismissal claim was as much a case of who is to blame for the failures, and who was to blame for the mountain of debt that has crippled the party. Taking on the BNP was Marion Thomas, Jim Dowson’s softly spoken sister in law. The nervous Scot was as good as on her own at the tribunal, once her nephew in law was quietly paid off before the hearing began on the first day.
Of course, Belfast can be a challenging place. It has an often intimidating geography for outsiders, even to those who purport undying love for the extreme fringes of Irish society. The tribunal panel commented on as much in its ruling but it was also quick to point out “this was, in truth, a banal and ordinary employment tribunal claim alleging unfair dismissal and non-payment of holiday pay, overtime, expenses and notice pay."
For those of us who squeezed into room ten, it was anything other than “banal”.
When having a call centre in Belfast worked for the BNP, it worked exceptionally well. Taking advantage of a low wage economy on an industrial estate in Dundonald, few people felt the desire to trawl across suburban east Belfast to poke around there. Prime and paramount for the BNP was secrecy. We did poke around however, and from almost the very moment we made it our business, we had almost two years of excellent non-stop exclusives detailing almost every squalid and shameful shenanigan going on inside the BNP’s call centre. Some of what we found out was too sensitive to print, some of it was just breathtakingly degenerate.
From the village of Comber where the BNP set themselves up in flats and homes and joined “Kick The Pope” bands and even toyed with the idea of moving the whole party machinery there, we reported how a lonely and insecure Jennifer Matthys (nee Griffin) plotted and schemed against her rivals, namely the Dowson family. We forensically investigated Jim Dowson’s financial dealings, his shady past and dubious political friends. We predicted an acrimonious parting and worked as hard as we could to facilitate one.
And so it came to pass that the very geography that the BNP courted became their undoing. They burnt their bridges in an unforgiving environment either by sheer arrogance, or just stupidity. The cost is not just £2500 for Marion Thomas but also whatever it cost for Nick Griffin to send seven BNP officials to Belfast on his behalf now his business arrangements have turned so sour.
Marion Thomas’s primary complaint was that she was unfairly dismissed and owed eight days holiday pay plus out of pocket expenses. The BNP argued that Thomas was only actually employed by the BNP for six months, excluding her from entitlement to both redundancy payments and any compensation. For good measure, the BNP admitted they would have dismissed her anyway. But just to confuse matters further they claimed that they also offered Thomas the opportunity to discuss a transfer to the “mainland” after the relationship between Griffin and Dowson broke down, which led to the inevitable closure of the Dundonald office. But Thomas had refused to travel to Britain to discuss any prospective move. She claimed she had not believed that the BNP would honour their pledge to pay reasonable expenses as she was already owed money by the party.
Neither side denied there was an absence of formal employment contracts and so, on this issue, it becomes apparent that with the disappointing absence of both Nick Griffin and Jim Dowson from the hearing, Thomas could only claim that Griffin, his daughter Jennifer Matthys and Jim Dowson all gave verbal employment assurances. The BNP’s legal representative could only claim that either Nick Griffin did not make such offers, or that Jim Dowson was not in the position to make such offers. The ins and outs of what date it was that Thomas actually began getting paid by the BNP and not by Dowson’s front company are, of course, not as interesting as what the BBC describes as the “secretive world” of the BNP.
It’s fair to say that no matter what extremism still exists in Northern Ireland, that the BNP was viewed locally as a most unwelcome addition. The case received uncomplimentary cross community coverage, including a front page on the Belfast Telegraph for two consecutive days. The revelations were sensational. “I was sacked by BNP after dispute with Griffin’s daughter”, led the Belfast Telegraph. Thomas, nicknamed the “matron” for her role in overseeing up to thirty employees at the Dundonald office during the 2009 European elections, admitted with some chagrin that she regarded herself as a junior to Jennifer Matthys once the leader’s daughter had moved to Northern Ireland. Thomas, who was never a member of the party also alleged that she was promoted to the BNP’s treasury team with a focus on ringing around creditors to try and make arrangements for the clearing of some initial £275,000 of debt. It was in this capacity that she says she felt obliged to report to Jim Dowson that Jennifer Matthys had “borrowed” some £900 from a BNP account after a mistake by her husband Angus Mathys who worked in the post room. Thomas claims that this money was set aside to pay creditors.
Thomas also repeated the claim that she made to the BBC’s Panorama programme that party treasurer Clive Jefferson demanded that invoices that were unpaid be stamped as “paid”. Jefferson who was in the tribunal room hurriedly approached the BNP’s legal advisor with a written note soon after. The Belfast Telegraph described the atmosphere in the tribunal as “charged” with the “imposing presence of several heavyweights of the BNP lining the back row”. The BNP did not appreciate having somebody from Searchlight recording the proceedings either.
For most of the three days there was a heavy focus on the bizarre and almost comical circumstances surrounding the alleged holding of Thomas against her will. As the split between Dowson and Griffin grew more and more acrimonious last year, Thomas alleged that she was asked to “mediate” between the two sides. In November of last year she met three BNP officials in the car park of Tescos in Comber twice on the same day. On both occasions large amounts of cash exchanged hands, £2500 in the first instance and then, later in the day, a further £5000. It would appear that the BNP was buying back its own membership details and computer server and while waiting for the equipment to arrive Thomas got into a van driven by former Yorkshire Regional Organiser Ian Kitchen with Clive Jefferson and Adam Walker. Thomas alleged that she was told she was not allowed to leave the van and that Jefferson in particular was “agitated”. Upon the arrival of the equipment, Thomas further alleged that Jefferson, the BNP’s treasurer, removed £200 from the £5000 as compensation for his “inconvenience”.
Of further inconvenience to the BNP would appear to be Dowson’s new political venture which Thomas described as a “Nationalist campaigning group”. Interestingly, the group was described by the BNP as a “commercial rival” and not a political rival. The intimation by the BNP appeared to be that Dowson still had access to the BNP’s membership files and was running his organisation with the BNP’s data. Thomas denied this and claimed that Dowson is in fact using the BNP membership list that was leaked on line in 2007. The BNP’s legal advisor said that the BNP has since made a series of “test calls” to the BNP’s old offices in Dundonald and alleged that Thomas was now answering the phones for their bitter “commercial rivals”. Thomas denied this. The Scottish accent she claims the BNP heard was in fact the voice of her sister Anne, Dowson’s wife.
The BNP were represented in Belfast by the mildly competent Patrick Harrington. The faux trade union leader is a former close comrade of Griffin from when they ran the NF together back in the 1980’s. Harrington struggled with some areas of the tribunal’s processes and had to be guided by the Vice president of the panel, Mr Noel Kelly. Harrington has something of a love-hate relationship with Belfast himself. He has been the constant focus for one newspaper there that has printed the allegations, rife in far-right circles, that Harrington holds Republican sympathies. While the rest of the BNP party had to be admonished for their constant whispering and disruptions on the first day, Harrington conducted his defence for the respondent (the BNP) with a modicum of professionalism even if it was slow, monotone and often judged irrelevant by Thomas’s solicitor. If anything, Harrington was revelling in some kind of role as the sadistic schoolmaster, trying to trip up the housewife who has taken to answering every question and counter accusation with “rubbish”. In the week leading up to the hearing the BNP had alleged that Thomas and Dowson were in fact lovers and not just brother and sister in law. When questioned abut her living arrangements, Thomas appeared ready to explode violently to a loaded question. Marion Thomas was being goaded.
On the second day, Harrington woke up to find his features prominent in the Belfast Telegraph. Arriving at the tribunal with his wife “Mish”, (Some of you may know her better by her stage name "Mish Bondage" or if it suits, “Frightening Fanny”!)
He became entangled in an exchange with two Irish trade unionists, one of whom was holding the flag of the International Brigades. Whether he has some kind of post traumatic disorder relating to his controversial days at the Polytechnic of North London or not, I do not know, but Harrington reacted very badly to being called a fascist and so began a lot of pushing and shoving before his wife Mish decided to physically launch herself at people wildly, apparently upset at her husband’s picture having been in the paper that morning.
Sackings and expulsions from the BNP are never straightforward and normally have a heavy hint of intimidation, humiliation or violence. Who can forget one former employee from the Belfast office who claimed that she was threatened with a shot gun, or how the leakers’ of the 2007 membership list had their house ransacked by the BNP’s security team?
In Belfast, the BNP had sent some of their “finest”. They sent men who were not immune to violence and who were in fact, quite adept at it. They also sent Angus Matthys, Nick Griffin’s son in law. How did Angus get to marry the prized daughter of the Fuhrer. Were other suitors too politically ambitious? Angus carried all of the boxes into the tribunal - and out again. When he worked at the offices of the BNP in Northern Ireland his main task appeared to be donning rubber gloves and poking through thousands of letters that contained, among other things, excrement and razor blades in the search for cash. He swept up, made tea and also went to the post office and the supermarket for teabags. He was not known as the “dynamo”. One source we had in the office at the time told us that Angus was called “Trigger”, but only when he was well out of ear shot, because anything he did hear went straight to Jenny and nobody wanted a forty minute ticking off from her!
Giving evidence on the second day, it was clear that Angus achieved a major victory in just getting dressed that day. He reminded me of Frank Spencer. Angus claimed that he and his wife had been “run off the road” in Cumbria (where they had fled to once they decided to leave Northern Ireland), and that, sadly, his wife felt too intimidated to come to Northern Ireland and that there was a court case pending. Of course, being the BNP and this being Northern Ireland, there would have to be an alleged paramilitary angle to it. Across town was also about to begin one of the largest trials of paramilitaries Northern Ireland had ever witnessed, the place is still awash with them. Angus could not remember much else about his time in Northern Ireland, not surprisingly, seems that he spent most of it cooped up in the BNP’s post room or a tiny flat above a service station in Comber.
Throughout the tribunal the BNP gave the impression that Nick Griffin was “out of the country” (I presume they meant England). While Angus was having some quite severe memory loss, Nick Griffin was on the way to Blackpool lamenting on twitter that he was stuck on the M6. Dowson was in Swansea himself, not fancying the glare of publicity in his adopted home town. It was more than apparent too that Griffin did not fancy hot-footing it to Belfast either. He’d tried all kinds of things to avoid coming back. The BNP’s legal advisor Harrington had warned, not two weeks before, that I would be “punished” should I dare mention that Nick Griffin was too scared. Oh well, poor Angus..
On the third and final day, sixty Trade Union activists picketed the tribunal. BNP treasurer Clive Jefferson claimed that the party operated in circumstances of “extreme stress and intimidation”. He denied allegations that he held Thomas against her will and that he also demanded she stamp invoices “paid” when they were not. Bizarrely, he claimed also that an “incendiary device” had been fired at the BNP as they entered Killymead House. Nick Griffin, on twitter, claimed it was a firework.
The media had come however, not to hear Clive “Rodney” Jefferson, not even Adam Walker. They wanted Mark Walker, Adam’s baby brother. The BNP’s European Researcher had sat through two days of the tribunal without a word. There had been some excitement in media land after the second day as news was reaching us that Walker had been banned from the classroom after a hearing in England that day. The Professional Conduct Committee heard that he had used school computers to send a vulnerable 16-year-old former pupil a sexually explicit message. He had used language understood to mean that he wanted to have sex with the girl.
Sadly, Mark did not turn up. He’d apparently had a “bereavement” overnight. The case fizzled out slightly. Ian Kitchen gave some light relief when asked about the alleged holding of Marion Thomas against her will. He became outraged. Kitchen had spent the previous two days chatting away at the back of the tribunal not just to the annoyance of the panel but it would seem also to his racial comrades there with him too. “I’m a family man” he protested and even the BNP members guffawed at that one. Four days later a local paper was to give some prominence to Kitchen’s links to “Granny Porn”.
For the BNP, its Northern Ireland experiment is over. I’d like to think we helped crush it. I know we did. We began by exposing the use of employment agencies by the party to recruit strangers to work on their sensitive documents, to the internal arguments between rivals, even to female escorts working out of their offices.
Marion Thomas, now a 49 year old housewife, described the “utter shame” at having the BNP on her CV. She was never a member. She worked for an advertising company that also did anti-abortion work that then took the BNP on for a client. Her claims for overtime, holiday pay and mobile phone expenses were dismissed.
In its decision the panel referred to some of the colourful testimony during the hearing.
"The tribunal heard allegations of blackmail, threats, cars being forced off the road, information being sought about political rivals, electoral malpractice, paramilitary involvement and that staple of Irish political life, the passing of money-filled envelopes in strange locations and in even stranger circumstances”.
The settlement Thomas will receive is made up of four week's pay, one week's notice pay, postage expenses incurred taking the case and £760 for the failure of Mr Griffin to provide a witness statement to the panel.
For the last two days, the BNP’s Simon Darby has been fighting off another Irish embarrassment which he is desperately trying to pass off as a joke to the journalists going to press with it. Steve Parkes, a BNP candidate at the recent elections wrote on his facebook page last week about going out to harass gypsies and as well as posting a “White Power” symbol on his profile and making disgusting references to black women.
I’m proud to say, we found and passed that on to the media here too.
Matthew Collins at Hope not Hate