The leader of the British National Party denounced Islam as “a vicious and wicked faith” today as he went on trial accused of trying to incite racial hatred.
Nick Griffin clutched a cross and compared himself to fallen World War Two soldiers as he pledged that he, like them, was willing to die to keep the country “free, Christian and British”.
His speech was made with a megaphone to more than 500 cheering supporters of the far-right party outside Leeds Crown Court shortly after a jury was sworn in for the trial of Mr Griffin, 47, and another senior BNP member, 26-year-old Mark Collett. Each denies conduct which was intended or likely to stir up racial hatred.
The charges—two against Mr Griffin and four against Mr Collett—are linked to speeches made by the two men to BNP supporters in the run-up to the 2004 local elections.
A large-scale security operation involving more than 80 uniformed police officers was launched to separate rival groups of demonstrators at the court.
The BNP supporters, many holding Union or St George flags and others with “Defend Free Speech” banners, were held behind one set of crash barriers, 20 yards from a pen holding a smaller group of protestors from the left-wing coalition group Leeds United Against Fascism.
Scuffles broke out and one man was knocked to ground as Mr Griffin arrived at the court, surrounded by a group of burly henchmen dressed in dark suits and black gloves.
The two men sat in the dock—where Mr Griffin had a laptop computer and a display of cards from well-wishers—as an all-white jury of five men and seven women was sworn in.
The Recorder of Leeds, Judge Norman Jones, QC, had earlier told the jury panel that the case would deal with “strong criticism in speeches of the Muslim religion and issues of racism, together with criticism of elements of the present Government’s policy”.
He warned them that such issues “can raise conflicts in people’s minds” and invited them to “search your conscience” to decide whether they would be able to approach the case “without prejudice and without bias”.
The judge also referred to the crowds outside the entrance to the court and told the jury that “you must not in any way let that influence you”.
“There are people outside this court today who are demonstrating in relationship to this case and are handing out leaflets,” he said. “If any of you have taken a leaflet would you please destroy it and do not take any for the remainder of this case.”
The opening of the case was adjourned until Friday.
Mr Griffin and Mr Collett, both wearing red poppies in their suit lapels, later emerged on the courtroom steps to be greeted by loud cheers from their supporters and a hail of verbal abuse from the anti-fascists.
The BNP leader claimed that he and Mr Collett were victims of a Labour “show trial” and thanked his supporters for turning out in such numbers to support “the rights of the British people to free speech in this country”.
He said the decision to prosecute him, which was made public a day after Labour called the 2005 general election, had been taken by a Government which was “desperate to claw back the Muslim vote that they’d lost through their illegal and appalling war in Iraq”.
Holding aloft a copy of the Koran, he said: “I’ve studied this. Tony Blair says this is a religion of peace. It’s not. It’s a manual for conquering other people’s countries.”
Mr Griffin, a broad smile fixed permanently to his face, said the anti-BNP demonstration was being staged by “people who want to see the black flag of Islam flying over this country because they failed to get the red flag of communism”.
He pointed to his poppy and spoke of the sacrifice made by countless soldiers who fought against the Kaiser and against Hitler to preserve British values.
“Just like the young men symbolised by these poppies, if necessary we will die for that same freedom of speech. That’s what being British is all about,” he said.
As Mr Griffin was guided by his minders towards a waiting fleet of black vehicles which drove him from the court, football-style taunts broke out between the rival groups.
The anti-fascist crowd chanted: “Hitler – Never Again! Auschwitz—Never Again!”. The response from the BNP supporters was: “7/7—Never Again! 9/11—Never Again!” They sang Rule Britannia while their oppnents yelled “Stop the Fascist Scum!”
Islamabad—Prince Charles Tuesday said that the world problems could be resolve by following Islamic teachings, as Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood.
Prince Charles while addressing a ceremony during his visit to Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) stressed on better relations between Islam and other religions.
He said that clash of civilizations could be averted by following the teaching of Islam and Quraan.
Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker, British Ambassador and others members of delegation were also present on the occasion.
Prince Charles also expressed grief and sorrow over the destructive earthquake that killed more than 73,000 people and left 3.5 million people homeless. The Prince is likely to pay visit to quake hit areas Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on Wednesday.