The British National Party sought yesterday to present the killing of one of its activists by a Muslim elder as an act of white martyrdom.
On the steps of Stafford Crown Court, Michael Coleman, a BNP councillor and organiser of the party’s Stoke-on-Trent branch, said: “We advise anybody who gets angry: get involved with the BNP.” He was speaking at the end of the trial into the killing of Keith Brown, 52, a former boxer and friend of the BNP leader Nick Griffin, who collapsed and died after being knifed in the back by his next-door neighbour Habib Khan. Mr Griffin attended his funeral.
Khan, 50, was unanimously cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter after a jury heard that he had endured racism, threats and violence from Mr Brown and his son, Ashley Barker, also a BNP activist. Khan was also convicted of wounding Mr Barker, 20. His son, Azir Habib Saddique, 24, was cleared of the same charge. Khan’s sentencing was adjourned.
Simon Darby, Stoke BNP’s deputy leader, has been blogging daily from the courtroom. The funeral is posted on YouTube. A DVD will be distributed, playing on voters’ worries about violent attacks blamed on Asian men. Other BNP units are being urged to adopt the strategy of highlighting local Muslim-on-white attacks.
The potency of the far Right claiming its first martyr dawned last year as six BNP councillors shouldered their fallen comrade’s coffin. To some white supremacist websites, Mr Brown is being built up as the Horst Wessel of the Potteries, a British equivalent of the Nazi songwriter shot dead by a Berlin communist in 1930. An online book of Condolence hails Mr Brown as “the first nationalist victim of Islamic jihad against Great Britain”.
Behind the rhetoric lies a tale of two middle-aged, Middle England fathers whose rivalry descended into loathing. Khan dreamt of knocking down two semis and creating a single grand villa next to a pair of ageing end-terrace houses where Mr Brown, his girlfriend and their seven children lived in the Normacot district.
Mr Brown tried everything to stop the building work but Khan erected a miniature palace with carved stone pillars and huge decorative amphorae in the garden. Like most neighbourhood feuds, it boiled down to a row over boundaries. Mr Brown accused Khan of putting a fence on his land and said that the conservatory blocked his light. Mr Brown was a dangerous man with convictions for what Judge Simon Tonking called “extreme violence” in his twenties. In 2000 he was convicted for punching a man in the face.
Mr Brown turned to the local authority for assistance and was introduced to Steve Batkin, then the sole BNP member of Stoke council. Mr Batkin lodged a complaint that the Khans were behaving aggressively. The councillor took the police a DVD showing an Asian man apparently kicking out at Mr Brown from the Khans’ side of the boundary. The Staffordshire force allegedly declined to view the disc. The Independent Police Complaints Authority is investigating a BNP complaint that the police failed to protect Mr Brown, and a mirror-image complaint from the Khans.
The BNP recruited Mr Brown. “We started talking about politics,” said Mr Coleman. “We found he agreed with what we were saying. We have many angry young men in our ranks. Our aim is: don’t put it on the streets, put your anger into politics.” Although Mr Brown declined to join, he helped with campaigns. “He was an excellent activist,” Mr Coleman said.
Stoke-on-Trent BNP’s first campaign about an alleged Asian-on-white attack came after the death of a barman who collapsed eight days after being allegedly beaten and hit on the head with a wheelbrace by a group of men in 1998. Last summer the BNP leafleted about another Asian attack that left a white victim hospitalised. “We went from abstract politics—the European Union, the threat of floods of immigrants coming—to a grass-roots campaign,” Mr Coleman said.
At this month’s Stoke elections, the BNP received nearly 8,000 votes, exceeded only by Labour with 11,000. The far-right party won an extra three seats to reach a total of nine.
Normacot is torn by racial tensions. Khan was a stalwart of his local mosque where, after the 9/11 attacks, a pig’s head was dumped as an insult to Muslims arriving for prayers. The mosque treasurer Mohammed Hanif smiled sadly when asked about race relations. Some of his worshippers, he said, endured living beside whites who “didn’t like it at all that they had coloured Asian neighbours”.