BNP verdict 'may change race laws'

RACE laws may have to be revised in the light of the acquittal of the BNP leader Nick Griffin on charges of stirring up racial hatred, Gordon Brown said last night.

Mr Griffin had described Islam as a "wicked, vicious faith" in a series of speeches to supporters in 2004, adding that Muslims were turning Britain into a "multi-racial hell-hole".

An all-white jury at Leeds Crown Court yesterday cleared Mr Griffin, 47, and co-accused Mark Collett, 26, the BNP's head of publicity, of two charges of stirring up racial hatred.

Mr Brown, the Chancellor, said the laws might have to be looked at in light of the case.

"Mainstream opinion in this country will be offended by some of the statements that they have heard made," he said.

"Any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion and I think we have got to do whatever we can to root it out, from whatever quarter it comes.

"If that means that we have to look at the laws again, I think we will have to do so."

John Reid, the Home Secretary, last night said he would "think carefully" about the need for changes to the legislation and consult ministerial colleagues.

However, Mr Reid maintained that defeating the "poisonous politics of race" could only be done by argument, politics and community engagement.

The charges against Mr Griffin related to a speech he made in a pub in Keighley, West Yorkshire, which was filmed by an undercover TV reporter posing as a BNP activist.

The court heard Mr Collett addressed the gathering on the same evening, saying: "Let's show these ethnics the door in 2004."

Mr Griffin, of Powys, Wales, denied using words or behaviour intended to stir up racial hatred and an alternative charge of using words or behaviour likely to stir up racial hatred. He insisted in court that his speech was not an attack on Asians in general, but on Muslims.

Mr Collett denied two charges of using words or behaviour intended to stir up racial hatred and two alternative counts of using words or behaviour likely to stir up racial hatred. Mr Collett said his speeches were only intended to motivate party members to take part in "legal and democratic" campaigning.

Summing up, the Recorder of Leeds, Judge Norman Jones, QC, said: "This case is not about whether the political beliefs of the BNP are right or wrong. It's not about whether assertions made about Islam are right or wrong."

He added: "We live in a democratic society which jealously protects the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression, to free speech.

It extends to the unpopular, to those which many people may find unacceptable, unpalatable and sensitive."

The campaign group Unite Against Fascism described the verdict as a travesty.

Sabby Dhalu, the organisation's joint secretary, said: "We think that the BNP does indeed incite racial hatred. In areas where the BNP target, racist attacks have been proven to increase."

Aamar Anwar, the Glasgow-based human rights lawyer, last night described the judge's direction to the jury as "almost like a green light to acquit".

But he insisted: "I don't think this particular law is a waste of time."

Graduate of the far right

CAMBRIDGE University-educated Nick Griffin cuts a figure which at first sight appears far removed from the skin-headed stereotype of the 1970s far-right activist.

Articulate and always in a suit, the 47-year-old embodies the BNP's attempts to legitimise itself as a credible political force since he took over the helm from far-right stalwart and BNP founder John Tyndall in 1999.

Griffin has a long history in British politics dating back to the height of the National Front (NF) in the 1970s.

He was reportedly first exposed to the far right when he was taken to an NF meeting by his Tory councillor father when he was 15.

Griffin had a long involvement with the organisation during its most notorious period.

He left the NF in 1989 and joined the BNP in 1995.

Griffin has became known as a Holocaust denier, once describing it as "the hoax of the 20th century".

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