A case was heard in the High Court yesterday (28th March) that is of immense significance for every candidate and agent at last year’s General Election and everyone unwise enough to stand as a BNP candidate or agent in this year’s local elections, the Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly or Scottish Parliamentary elections.
The case was heard in Court 14 before Mr Justice Tugendhat. This highly respected judge is a specialist in electoral law.
This was the case:
IN THE MATTER OF THE REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT 1983
AND IN THE MATTER OF AN APPLICATION FOR RELIEF FOR THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION FOR THE CONSTITUENCY OF BARKING HELD ON 6 MAY 2010
Richard Barnbrook v The Returning Officer for the constituency of Barking
Application for Relief
The case involves the non payment of election expenses relating to Barking constituency, where Nick Griffin was the candidate and Richard Barnbrook was rather foolishly his agent. Richard Barnbrook turned up in court in his trademark beige suit.
A company called Newton Press had provided various printing services relating to this election campaign, most notably two newspapers that were distributed across the constituency.
Nick Griffin’s BNP has refused to pay Newton Press for their printing services, including various issues of Voice of Freedom. I believe the total outstanding bill is in the region of £15,000. Newton Press have tried various remedies in order to obtain payment but Nick Griffin’s BNP have just waved two fingers at this honest small British company, that employs British workers in their factory in County Durham.
Out of desperation Newton Press were able to establish that some of the printing related to the Barking election and Richard Barnbrook as agent had accepted responsibility for the items as they were included on the expense return.
The items were listed in the expense return as paid. I know this as I helped him fill it out and I saw the invoices, which had a ‘Paid’ stamp on them. These invoices had been provided by Dave Hannam who at the time was the National Treasurer. It is clear that these invoices had not in fact been paid.
Under Section 78(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 all bills relating to election expenses have to be paid with 28 days of the election result being declared.
Under Section 82(6) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 making a false declaration as to election expenses can carry a sentence of up to a year’s imprisonment or a fine of up to £5,000.
If a candidate or agent realises that their expense return was inaccurate then they can apply to the High Court for relief, but the grounds for doing this are quite narrow.
Newton Press contacted Richard Barnbrook in order to obtain payment for the part of their outstanding debt that relates to the two newspapers delivered in Barking. I believe the total sum is about £6,000. I suspect they approached Richard Barnbrook as they knew he had a well-paid job as a member of the Greater London Assembly, and that he would be a less slippery character to pin down than Nick Griffin.
Richard Barnbrook denied responsibility as the bill should have been settled by the party centre. Not surprisingly he did not think it was his fault that the BNP had defaulted and provided him with false invoices. As the Electoral Commission had been informed about the matter, Richard Barnbrook had to apply to the High Court for relief in order to absolve himself from making a false declaration on the expense return; that the invoices had been paid when they had not.
Mr Justice Tugendhat has found against Richard Barnbrook. The mitigating plea that Richard Barnbrook believed in good faith that the invoices had been paid was not accepted. The agent is expected to be in real and genuine control of election expenditure. Before signing off the expense return it was the agent’s responsibility to make certain that the invoices had in fact been paid.
It is important to note that the candidate also has to sign off election expense returns. Both candidate and agent are potentially liable for any false declarations. We have just found out that ignorance is no defence.
Mr Justice Tugendhat has adjourned the hearing with a view to referring the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In other words, Richard Barnbrook is about to be prosecuted and is likely to gain a criminal conviction because he was the agent in an election when Nick Griffin’s British National Party fraudulently claimed to have paid a bill for materials used in respect of an election and in fact refused to pay the bill.
It is also known that Newton Press printed a local BNP newspaper that was delivered across Stoke-on-Trent, in support of the BNP candidates there, one of whom was Simon Darby.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT SYMPATHY FOR RICHARD BARNBROOK
I find it difficult to muster any personal sympathy for Richard Barnbrook’s plight. He has acted in a thoroughly disreputable manner ever since the General Election. One minute solemnly promising to support my leadership challenge, the next acting as a stooge spoiler candidate at the behest of Nick Griffin in order to corrupt the internal election process. Soon after he announced he wanted Nick Griffin to come clean about the financial mismanagement that had taken place and resigned the BNP whip as a GLA member. Nick Griffin showed his gratitude for Richard acting as his stooge by promptly expelling him. Richard then demeaned himself by touting himself around to various parties. His price was that he insisted in personally being named as the number one candidate for the 2012 London Assembly Election. His only concern was for himself and his own position. Even after Richard’s betrayal during the BNP Leadership contest I gave him sensible advice that he failed to take and ended up making himself appear venal and untrustworthy.
The last I heard the new London Organiser had attempted to foster Richard Barnbrook onto an unimpressed Regional Council meeting recently, by accepting him back and onto London Assembly list (although not as number one). This was at Nick Griffin’s behest!
One’s personal feelings are irrelevant. This is a much bigger issue than Richard Barnbrook.
THIS AFFECTS EVERY BNP CANDIDATE AND AGENT
It is well known that the company that produced the BNP’s General Election leaflets, Romac Press (which is based in Belfast), has an outstanding bill for around £45,000.
This affects every single candidate and agent from last year’s General Election. The gross mismanagement of the BNP’s finances by Nick Griffin has jeopardised the liberty of every single one of them. The buck stops with Nick Griffin and him alone. The judgement in the Equality Commission case makes it abundantly clear that Nick Griffin is in sole and absolute control of all aspects of the BNP.
The timing of this case, just as BNP activists are considering whether to stand candidates or act as agents could not be more staggering.
Are you thinking of standing for the BNP in this year’s local elections – or perhaps for the Welsh or Northern Ireland Assemblies, or the Scottish Parliament? Are you thinking of acting as an election agent?
If so I suggest you think long and hard. If you are a paper candidate then there will not be a problem. If you only use your own locally produced leaflets you will be alright. If you are standing in an election where centrally produced leaflets are used then think again. You are literally risking your liberty and freedom. You cannot believe Nick Griffin’s ‘team’ if they say the leaflets have been paid for.
Nick Griffin has a track record of refusing to pay printers bills. He is taking a risk with your well being. He is mocking you. He thinks you are a stupid. Little more than dirt on his shoes.
A transcript of Mr Justice Tugendhat's full judgment will be available soon and I will post it up. Inevitably until then some sceptical souls will dispute my facts.