21 July 2009

BNP member faces suspension from London assembly

One of the most senior elected members of the British National party today faces suspension from the London assembly as a panel decides whether he has brought his office into disrepute.

Richard Barnbrook, who is the BNP's only member on the 25 strong assembly as well as a councillor in Barking and Dagenham, faces a grilling over comments he made last year on a video posted on the internet.

A joint investigation for the Greater London authority and Barking and Dagenham council concluded in May that Barnbrook brought his office and the respective authorities into disrepute after falsely claiming in an interview that three murders had taken place over a three week period in the Barking and Dagenham area.

Barnbrook will face a full hearing in Dagenham before the standard committees of both the Greater London authority and the council to explain his position and take questions.

If found in breach of the code, Barnbrook faces a range of possible sanctions, including up to six months' suspension from elected office.

The complaint against Barnbrook was first lodged last September after he claimed in an interview posted on YouTube and his own website that a girl had been murdered within the borough within the past three weeks. "We don't know who's done it. Her girlfriend was attacked inside an educational institute," Barnbrook said in the prerecorded interview, in which he sought to highlight failings in tackling knife crime.

He also said that two weeks previously "there was another attack by knives on the streets of Barking and Dagenham where two people were murdered".

Valerie Rush, a Labour cabinet member at the local authority, accused Barnbrook of "openly and outrageously" lying to "whip up fears in the London community".

In her complaint to the GLA and the council, Rush said Barnbrook had acted in a way that brought his honesty and integrity as a councillor into disrepute.

Barnbrook, who is one of 12 BNP councillors in Barking and Dagenham, said that he knew at the time that he made the statements that "there had been no fatalities in Barking and Dagenham", according to a report documenting the investigation into the complaint.

Barnbrook nevertheless refused to apologise for the statements "until knife crime is over".

This meant that the interview – filmed by Simon Darby, the BNP's deputy leader, who works part-time for Barnbrook in the London assembly – was posted on the internet despite Barnbrook knowing the statements were incorrect, the report noted.

The Metropolitan police confirmed that there had been no murders or incidents resulting in critical injuries requiring intensive care in the time period cited, and that murders in the area were actually decreasing.

By the time the draft investigation report was published, Barnbrook said he did not accept that "the inaccuracy of my statement was deliberate". He also stated: "I did not know that the data in the recording was incorrect. I would not have posted the recording if I had known that it was incorrect."

Barnbrook also insisted that "once I realised that the data was incorrect, the recording was removed from the internet on my instruction within 24 hours".

The investigation ruled that Barnbrook's original claim that he knew what he was saying was untrue "seems at odds" with the principles of honesty and integrity. "If the public were aware that Mr Barnbrook was in fact putting out statements that he knew were false, we consider that his could reasonably be regarded as undermining public confidence in both members and the authorities as a whole in being able to fulfil their function."

The report's findings prepare the way for one of a range of sanctions today, including suspension from office for up to six months.

But this can be challenged on appeal to the president of the Adjudication Panel for England. If an appeal is accepted, the body can overturn the finding or vary the sanction.

The Guardian

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