May 08, 2007

Greater Manchester police investigates claim it has BNP members in ranks

· Off-duty colleagues said to have been at pub event
· Force seizes CCTV footage of St George's Day incident

One of Britain's biggest police forces is investigating allegations that it has British National party members among its frontline officers, the Guardian has learned. Greater Manchester police launched the investigation after complaints from its own officers, who say they saw colleagues at a BNP event to mark St George's Day.

The supporters of the extreme right-wing party had gathered outside a pub in Manchester city centre and police were called after complaints that they had turned rowdy.

The allegations are especially embarrassing for Greater Manchester Police, (GMP) which was one of the forces whose trainee officers were caught making racist remarks by an undercover television programme. After the revelations in the BBC Secret Policeman documentary the force vowed to stamp out racism in the ranks.

The force says it has seized CCTV footage and its detectives will scour it frame by frame for evidence. The force vowed that any officer found to be a BNP member could be sacked. But the BNP claimed it has members among the force's ranks.

The incident happened at 4.30pm on April 23. Around 120 BNP supporters were reported to be milling around Sinclair's Oyster Bar, and were reported to be chanting abuse at passers by. Some were wearing T-shirts saying "Love Britain or Fuck off" and shouting BNP slogans. One officer present claims he saw a fellow officer wearing a BNP badge. Bar managers feared trouble and called police to help them clear away the BNP supporters.

The report that sparked the investigation came from an inspector sent to the scene to help quell the disturbance.

Police sources say the inspector does not claim he saw officers whom he recognised as part of the BNP group. His report relays allegations from other officers that they recognised some of the crowd as off duty policemen.

Senior GMP officers are sceptical of the claims of BNP members in their ranks. The force's initial reaction to the undercover footage obtained by the BBC of their trainee officers being racist, was to arrest the undercover reporter who obtained it.

Police officers are not allowed to be members of the BNP, which is widely seen as being racist and which has members with convictions for violence. The policy was passed by police chiefs three years ago. They say membership of the party is incompatible with officers' duties under race equality laws.

Ali Dizaei of the National Black Police Association, who is a chief superintendent in the Metropolitan police, called for an independent investigation: "It beggars belief that in today's police service we appear to have serving police officers who are members of the BNP."

He added: "These allegations must be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Police should now carry out an investigation of all police forces to find the extent of the problem which, if not addressed, will have significant impact on legitimacy of policing in the UK."

Chief Superintendent Terry Sweeney, head of the GMP's professional standards branch, said: "There is absolutely no evidence at this time to suggest that any GMP employees took part in the disturbance. GMP's professional standards branch received a report on May 2 from an officer who was present on April 23 and was concerned there may have been off-duty police employees in the vicinity.

"The officer did not see any GMP employees involved in the disturbance himself, but has rightly brought to our attention the information he received from other people. We will investigate this thoroughly to establish if any off-duty officers or staff were involved. If it emerges that any staff were part of the disturbance, we will take the strongest possible action. As part of the investigation, we have taken CCTV from the city centre and will be looking at it frame by frame.

"The chief constable has made it clear that BNP members are not welcome in the GMP. No police officer or member of police staff may be in the BNP and anyone found to be a member is likely to be dismissed."

Asked if there were serving police officers who were also BNP members, Phil Edwards, a spokesman for the extremist organisation, said: "I believe there are."


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