David Leppard, Times of London, December 6, 2009
TREVOR PHILLIPS is facing renewed turmoil at the government’s equality watchdog after his staff revolted against a proposed “sting” to expose racism in the British National party (BNP).
Phillips, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was forced to sanction an internal investigation after executives criticised the entrapment campaign, claiming it was “illegal, unethical and unprofessional”.
Insiders at the commission say three regional executives were asked to find black and Asian “agents” who would approach BNP councillors with purported complaints about poor council services.
The executives were also asked to recruit “agent provocateurs” from ethnic minority groups to apply for membership of the far-right party.
In both cases the commission’s apparent aim was to gather evidence of the BNP’s racism, to prove that it discriminates against non-whites by refusing them party membership and failing to tackle their grievances about local problems.
The BNP plot has infuriated some commission staff, who said it had put them at risk of reprisals from the far-right party. It will refocus attention on Phillips’s troubled stewardship of the super-quango, which was set up two years ago to merge the government’s race, equal opportunities and disability watchdogs.
Kay Hampton, one of six commissioners to quit this year, described Phillips’s leadership style as “better suited to a political organisation than a human rights one”.
He has also alienated many left-wingers in the race relations lobby with his outspoken critique of Labour’s multiculturalist agenda.
The new row came to light in July as the commission was preparing a High Court action against the BNP’s constitution, which barred ethnic minorities from membership.
The rise of the BNP since its success at the European elections in June has set alarm bells ringing at the commission.
According to commission officials, Tim Wainwright, the commission’s director of regions, held a telephone conference call on July 10 with three executives in charge of its operations in the south of England, the west Midlands and northern England.
One official said: “They were asked to find members of the minority community to go and join the BNP and to complain to BNP councillors about the quality of local services.
“Legally it was just not right. They were asked to do it and they refused.”
Another source added: “They were instructed to get ethnic minorities to join the BNP. Once their membership was refused, they should persuade them to complain against the BNP and ask the commission to take legal action. This was clearly an example of deliberate entrapment.”
A commission insider said there were now concerns that those asked to take part in the operation could be exposed to reprisals from supporters of the BNP. “They are worried about their security, they think anything could happen,” he said.
Clifford Stewart, head of the commission’s operations for the south of England, who was present during the conference call, said he could not discuss the matter in detail because it was under investigation.
“If anything did happen, then it was unauthorised and nobody acted on it,” he said.
In a statement this weekend, the commission said it was never its policy to encourage anyone to join the BNP.
It said: “The commission has never authorised anyone to issue such instructions. If any such instructions have been given to staff, as far as we are aware no one has acted upon them.
“The commission is investigating some serious allegations–which have been strenuously denied–in accordance with our internal procedures.”
In the summer it emerged that the work and pensions department had conducted a similar exercise to expose racist businesses. Civil servants fabricated more than 2,000 job applications and concocted false names to see whether employers turned down applicants simply because they appeared to be black or Asian.
They found that an applicant who appeared to be white would send nine applications before getting a positive response while minority candidates with the same qualifications had to send 16.