One of the problems that the BBC faces when conducting an investigation of this kind is that of evidence, or rather the lack of hard evidence. Where MPs can get away with using Parliamentary privilege to make accusations without the risk of comeback and we, to a certain extent, can get away with a lot (largely due to the fact that any action taken against us would be financially untenable) the BBC has to conform to libel laws in every respect, making sure it has the evidence to back up its claims before it makes them. While this limits the BBC in what it can say, every claim it makes is more valid because it has the solid evidence, or at least clear testimony, to back it up.
Last night's File on Four brought us a whole swathe of information, some of which we already know, but also some new and interesting tidbits.
- Possible donation fraud
- Potential PAYE fraud
- Dodgy unreceipted transactions
- Lies from the BNP's treasurer
- Shredded documents
The programme began with a mention of the party's involvement with the American Friends of the BNP (AFBNP). To introduce the AFBNP section there was a snippet of a speech given by Nick Griffin on a fund-raising tour in the States where, referring to white rule in South Africa, he stated, '...it was wrong and immoral and it was short-sighted but...at least it was white.' This is apropos of nothing except to remind us that the BNP is a racist organisation and should be treated as such.
Run by Mark Cotterill, AFBNP was purely a fund-raising operation, deliberately based on the American fund-raising arm of Sinn Fein. AFBNP was extremely successful though it has been claimed that a lot of the money raised went adrift and never ended up in the party coffers.
It was while Cotterill was fund-raising in the States that the then new rule came into force that limited foreign donations to £200. Though this was the case, Cotterill stated, there was nothing to say how many times such donations could be made - the implication being that this was how the BNP crept around the letter of the law. The legislation is and was clear however, such behaviour is criminal - not that we expect the BNP to care overmuch about breaking the law.
Back in February 2006, Griffin was speaking at an AmRen conference in the States (organised by a former prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan). During his speech, he asked his audience to donate to the BNP via Civil Liberty, a BNP front-group. Civil Liberty, according to its website, is an organisation set up by the BNP 'solely in order to assist the thousands of British citizens who have been denied justice on the grounds of their race, skin colour, ethnicity or political opinion'. Curiously, the only people it has ever tried to do anything for since it was set up back in January 2006 around the time of the Griffin/Collett trial at Leeds Crown Court are, as is clear from its website, two BNP members who it claims were unfairly dismissed from their jobs.
Civil Liberty, which according to the British National Party is an 'independent organisation', is headed up by BNP North-East organiser Kevin Scott, whose personal history includes a conviction for assault (1987), a conviction for using threatening words and behaviour (1993) and who wrote an article in the International Third Position newspaper, 'The Final Conflict' in 2001. That the BNP's Civil Liberty is racist is patently obvious. When contacted to see if he would stand by the vow, featured on the Civil Liberty website, to represent absolutely anyone, Scott admitted: 'If a black Muslim approached us for help I would suggest they go to Liberty where they will get a sympathetic ear.'
Civil Liberty's former treasurer was the BNP's recent Head of Admin Kenny Smith, now one of the dissident Voice of Change group. Its contact address is the PO Box that belongs to the BNP's North-East Region.
The BNP's Civil Liberty, by the way, has absolutely no connection to Liberty, the extremely active and much-respected human rights and civil liberties organisation.
The problem with Civil Liberty and its alleged role as a suspected money-laundering operation for the BNP is that it's next to impossible to check its finances without a proper legal investigation taking place. It's not a charity and it's not a registered company. It's not anything really except the non-operating group it claims to be on its website - or that's how it appears. Adrian Davies, barrister and former Griffin-supporter, stated on the programme that he attended the AmRen conference with Griffin and witnessed people queuing up to hand over large sums of cash to the BNP leader, ostensibly (nudge-nudge) for Civil Liberty but who can say where it has really ended up?
The invisible rubber cheque
While we're on the subject of donations, regular readers may recall Nick Griffin boasting on being cleared of race hate charges back in February 2006 that the party had been swamped with donations, including a single cheque for £20,000. This was apparently raised thanks to the omnipresent Sharon Ebanks, who owned up to spamming forums and blogs with pleas for money for the BNP. Fair enough - she was the party's fundraiser at the time and that's how they do business.
File on Four pointed out to John Walker that this £20,000 didn't seem to have appeared in the accounts that were submitted to the Electoral Commission for the appropriate period. Walker's response was a little odd, to say the least, for he seemed to find the incident 'slightly amusing'. The cheque, he claimed, bounced.
Were Lancaster Unity lucky enough to be given a cheque for £20,000 (hint-hint) that subsequently bounced, we wouldn't laugh much at all.
This rubber cheque appears to be a lot more important than it first appeared, to the extent that the BNP website has an explanation entitled 'Third Rate Marxist Lies from the Reds at the BBC' on the front page of its website. This explanation includes an image that purports to be part of a bank statement which shows the cheque being paid in on Jan 30th and rejected on Feb 2nd.
According to Walker; 'The cheque was duly deposited into the BNP bank account but was returned a few days later by the bank as refer to drawer. The cheque had bounced and attempts to contact the donor proved unsuccessful.'
He also claimed that he could produce the cheque but when asked was unable to, claiming that his deputy treasurer was away 'and he is the only one with access to the filing system'. Hmm...
Potential PAYE fraud
Around late October 2006, Sadie Graham, the BNP's former Head of Group Development, was asked to come off the payroll and go self-employed because, it was stated, the party was having trouble paying its PAYE bill. Kenny Smith, the former Head of Administration, was asked to do the same thing shortly after her and for the same reason.
As far as I can gather, where someone is employed for set hours for a set wage, the employer must handle the tax (PAYE). What happens in responsible companies is that the company puts the money away each wage cycle and at the end of the tax year pays up. This obviously doesn't work for the BNP, for it found itself several thousand pounds short when it received the tax bill. To get around this problem in future, it asked Graham and Smith to go self-employed and thus to sort out their own tax.
Two things arise from this. One is the astonishing financial incompetence of a political group that claims it is on the way to government (where presumably BNP treasurer John Walker would end up as Chancellor) and the other is the illegality of demanding that an employee should do any such thing.
Sadie Graham at least has consulted a solicitor over this issue so we'll leave it for now but we can see this popping up again - particularly as the reporter from File on Four stated clearly that charges could follow. Sub judice and all that.
There was a lot of information in the programme and it's certainly too much to put in a single article that has to be up on the blog today, but one of the more intriguing snippets concerned the infamous bag of shredded documents.
Former treasurer John Brayshaw refused to sign off the accounts because he hadn't been allowed access to all the relevant documents and because he was aware that serious offences had been committed. He claimed that Walker and his deputy Dave Hannam visited his house 'for a week' to look at the accounts and make them balance. During the course of that week, a number of documents were shredded and Brayshaw was eventually ordered to burn these when Walker and Hannam left. Brayshaw chose not to do this but instead wrote to the Electoral Commission stating his concerns at the accounts and alleging a number of offenses. The Electoral Commission, for reasons known only to itself, chose to largely ignore him.
The shredded documents eventually found their way to File on Four, where they were examined closely and, in some cases, stuck back together. Walker claims on the BNP website that the documents 'appeared to be in the main, working copies of the print outs of the book keeping software and draft accounts...these drafts and working copies were quite properly shredded for the very reason that the BBC has a habit of scuttling around in the night raiding peoples bin bags. If the BBC is not guilty of theft, they are clearly in the possession of stolen property and I will be considering reporting the BBC to the police for this offence'.
Where there's no defence, attack is the only option.
The shredded documents are not as innocent as Walker would have us believe, even though he denied their existence until confronted with them. Some that are easily identifiable proved to be cheques, petrol receipts, Trafalgar Club and Excalibur documents, financial records (NOT, it should be noted, print-outs) and documents that referred directly to Nick Griffin and his parents, Edgar and Jean. Walker denied knowing who had shredded any cheques, of course.
The shredding of documents is not, in and of itself, illegal. But the BNP operates as a political party and/or a company and has to submit accounts, deal with tax and so on. As a legal entity, it is forced to conform to the law and one of the laws regarding such organisations is that things such as cheques, petrol receipts and financial documents have to be kept for six years after the end of the relevant tax year. Not to do so, is a criminal offence.
All in all, an intriguing programme that was only able to touch the surface of the corruption that is endemic within and around the British National Party. The feeling I got from it is that there is a lot more information to be dug out - but that's the feeling we all get when the words 'corruption' and 'BNP' are mentioned in the same sentence.
One result of the programme could have interesting repercussions yet. Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham, stated that he was going to approach the Electoral Commission to ask if it had ever asked to see brayshaw's evidence for his claims of allegedly dodgy accounts and if not, why they ignored his claims.
This story looks set to run and run...
Call for full investigation into BNP finances
Investigations into the British National Party’s finances by the BBC and Searchlight have revealed the sheer incompetence of the Electoral Commission. The Commission, which oversees political party finances, has repeatedly failed to investigate properly a series of allegations of BNP wrongdoing.
In 2005 the BNP’s former treasurer, John Brayshaw, wrote to the Commission pointing out that he had refused to sign off the BNP’s accounts because he had not been given access to all the records he needed to see and had resigned after a number of irregularities had come to light. Yet the Electoral Commission said it had no reason to believe a breach of the party funding law had taken place.
It is illegal for political parties to accept any donations of more than £200 from individuals who are not registered to vote in the UK. In June 2005 Searchlight wrote to the Electoral Commission drawing attention to a blatant attempt by Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, to solicit large US donations to the BNP by channelling them through a BNP front group called Civil Liberty. Again the Electoral Commission did not consider that any breach had occurred.
Searchlight wrote again to the Electoral Commission in May 2006 about another attempt to channel overseas donations of more than £200 through Civil Liberty. Although the Electoral Commission told us that our complaint would be investigated, we heard nothing more.
Searchlight demands that the Electoral Commission mounts a proper investigation into the BNP taking account of the evidence uncovered by Searchlight and the BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme broadcast on 12 February, as well as the matters raised by Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham, in an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 18 December 2007, which he subsequently reported to the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police. They include:
- John Brayshaw’s statement about irregularities while he was BNP treasurer and the shredding of BNP financial documents.
- The BNP’s attempts on more than one occasion to solicit overseas donations via Civil Liberty.
- The fact that the only two officers of Civil Liberty were both BNP officers, Civil Liberty’s PO Box address is the same as that of the BNP’s North East region and there is no evidence that Civil Liberty has given legal support to anyone who is not a member of the BNP.
- The statement to File on 4 by Adrian Davies, a barrister who has often represented the BNP, that he saw people queuing up to give cash to Griffin at a rightwing conference in the USA.
- The unusual pattern of large donations that the BNP has reported to the Electoral Commission.
- The verdict of Chris Makin, a forensic accountant engaged by File on 4, on the BNP’s accounts.
- The fact that the BNP never submitted any accounts to the Electoral Commission for the last three months of 2001.