We have devoted a relatively large amount of space in this issue of Fighting Talk. to the following account of the trial of a group of fascists, after a race attack in the village of Bungtingford, Herts. The article highlights just how much the state is prepared to let the fascists get away with and poses important questions to those who feel that reliance on the police, rather than militant action, is the key to success.
A Right Result
After a series of inexplicable delays and postponements, four members of the neo-Nazi British National Party finally stood trial at St. Albans Crown Court during the week Monday 14th June - Friday 18th June. They were charged in connection with an armed assault on five Bengali restaurant workers in Buntingford, Herts. The attack took place late at night during November 1991.
The court heard that during the incident, two of the workers were knocked unconscious, and one of them made the subject of a kidnap attempt. After the initial attack, the BNP van drove away - but then returned, this time attempting to run over the Bengalis as they stood on the pavement. They literally had to jump for their lives. The van's occupants jumped out once more and handed out a second beating. As he jumped from the van, one of the attackers yelled, "Yeah, this is our lucky day!"
At the preliminary committal hearing in April 1992, eight of the van's thirteen occupants were found to have a prima facie case against them in respect of a charge of violent disorder. Remarkably, four of them were bound over to keep the peace at a hearing at St. Albans Crown Court on 12 July 1992. They were Neil Parrish of Milton Keynes; James Spencer Liggett of Loughborough; Stephen Clifford Jones of Coalville, Leicestershire; and Anthony Raymond Johnson of Dunstable, Bedfordshire. That really was their lucky day.
Neil Parrish is number two in the neo-Nazi music organisation, "Blood and Honour” and was featured on Sky TV on 11 September 1992 to promote a planned appearance by the Nazi "Skrewdriver” band. Neil Parrish has also featured in an uncritical front page photo article in the Milton Keynes press, along with fellow members of the BNP, as the leader of a vigilante group whose proclaimed objective was to establish "Law and Order' in the town. In the same year, racist attacks in Milton Keynes, according to notoriously under-reported police figures, went up from 46 (1991) to 66 (1992) - a 50% increase in a year. The "vigilantes" seem to have been busy.
Jones and Liggett are members of the racist band "English Rose", which is well known on the fascist circuit. Van occupant and prosecution witness Shaun Graham Hill (also of Coalville, Leics), according to testimony is also a member of English Rose, along with a certain David Blake (also in the van but not charged). Hill testified that the van and its occupants were returning from a Blood and Honour gig held at the Buffalo Hall, Baldock and that English Rose were one of the bands playing that night. Hill, facing no charge, claimed to have been scared and to have put his head between his knees and his arms over his head throughout the first attack, and to have slept through the second attack, two minutes later.
In fact, Hill, at the time of the attack, was the only occupant of the van to wear his hair long. All the others were skinheads. A number of witnesses stated that one of the attackers stood out from the rest due to having long hair. Clearly, Hill's decision to do a deal with the police and act as a prosecution witness against his former partners in arms, was motivated by the need to save his own skin. In his court appearance, he identified Barker as the driver, which will no doubt cause a few inquiries to be made by his erstwhile friends on the fascist music circuit.
They may indeed already have been made. Hill was chalk white and in a funk sweat throughout his testimony. Afterwards, he sat outside the court with his head in his hands whining to his friend, "It was a nightmare, a nightmare...". Later he complained to court officials that he had been "threatened" by someone within the court and was afraid to leave. Hill and his mate made one attempt to leave through the revolving doors of the court, and apparently believing they were being followed, did a 360 circle straight back in! The visibly quivering pair sat tight for some 30 minutes, refusing to move until the police had been called and escorted them to their car. The performer of the classic single, "Smash Red Action" will never cut the same figure on stage again.
Others in the van at the time of the attack were: Anthony James Morgan, Sally Ann Barnes, and Toni Asquith (the girlfriend of N.J. Marsh -details below). Although arrested, they were never charged with any offence. Conspiracy would normally have looked a likely contender in most circumstances of this kind, especially since the evidence established that there were 10-11 people involved in the attacks at the same time. Perhaps it was their lucky day too.
Three defendants pleaded guilty to violent disorder at the hearing in July 1992: Paul Donald Parrish (brother of Neil) of Milton Keynes; and a man possessing an extensive string of convictions for crimes of violence, Nicholas James Marsh also of Milton Keynes; as well as Paul Raymond Lincoln of Newbury, Buckinghamshire.
The last defendant, 18 stone skinhead Kirk Barker from Basingstoke, pleaded not guilty on charges of violent disorder and reckless driving. Barker has the swastika-like symbol of the South African white supremacist organisation, the AWB, tattooed on his forehead. He failed to turn up to the hearing on 17th July 1992. He was finally arrested at Waterloo Bridge railway station, during the "Battle of Waterloo" while attempting to make his way to the Skrewdriver concert. He was convicted at Horseferry Road Magistrates Court (14th September 1992) of the possession of a firearm, namely a can of CS gas. He received the remarkably lenient sentence of one day in jail.
Evidence was heard from the Bengali victims of the assault, as well as from two residents of the road in which the attack took place. Statements were originally taken from seven residents, who were notified that they would be required to give evidence in court. In fact, the remaining five witnesses were not called, without being given any reason why their evidence was not to be heard. The real reason may have been that they were able to provide identification evidence that the police did not want to use, since this would have involved multiple charges against a number of those in the van.
The court was told that when the van was stopped shortly after the attack, police officers found a number of items inside. These included; what the police termed "vast amounts" of racist and homophobic BNP literature; Blood and Honour magazines with a large swastika on the cover; White Skin and British Oi magazines; racist tapes and albums; a poster of Hitler; a 6’ x 4’ swastika flag; and an assortment of weapons were made exhibits in the trial: two rubber coshes, a truncheon, a baseball bat, and a pickaxe handle.
In another remarkable decision, the judge ruled that the other items found in this assortment of weaponry were "inadmissible evidence", and therefore could not be made known to the jury. The list of weapons found in the van, but concealed from the jury was as follows: an axe; a machete, two heavy metal chisels, two items which the judge described as "fearsome looking knives with long blades", a stiletto knife, a silver knuckleduster, a "black widow" catapult with ball bearing ammunition, and a canister of CS gas (see above).
The judge referred to these items as "a veritable arsenal". In the judge's own words, he might be "erring on the side of over-fairness to the defendant", but he would not allow the jury to know that these weapons, including the CS gas, had been in the van.
Barker also admitted that he was the sole driver of the van, a white transit, which also belonged to him. He was found not to have a driving licence, or insurance. He was not charged with these offences. The charge of "reckless driving" was only added at the insistence of the magistrate at the committal stage. The police, apparently, did not think that deliberately driving a van at speed towards a group of people, in a manner causing them literally to leap for their lives, was sufficient grounds for such a charge, or indeed, a charge of attempted murder.
The statements also contain Barker's admission that he is a member of the BNP. Questioned about the swastika flag, Barker stated: that "there is no way the BNP use the swastika publicly" although it remained a "white man's symbol used by us". This, he stated, was due to the fact that, "too many lies had been told about the people who used it before us". His counsel, Mr Ross, acting for Southampton Solicitors Peach and Gray (curious, in that none of the van's occupants were from Southampton), argued at some length that Blood and Honour was not a racist publication, and that possession of a Nazi flag did not necessarily indicate that the owner held racist views.
Despite all these manoeuvres, the evidence against Barker (including his own admissions) was so overwhelming that there was little doubt of the eventual verdicts: guilty on both counts. He and the three defendants who pleaded guilty were sentenced on July 2nd. Incidentally, no-one turned up to support Barker during the entire five day hearing. He got nicked, and the BNP dumped him.
The case obviously exhibits a number of curious features: even though the defence counsel himself admitted that "lots of people" (i.e.: at least ten) were involved in the attack, of the eleven originally arrested, only eight were charged. Of these eight, four in effect had their charges dismissed by the judge, i.e.: were "bound over". The evidence was so strong that the "leniency" of the prosecution in offering the bind overs became even more baffling. Then again, of all the charges that would appear to be appropriate, conspiracy, assault, GBH, possession of offensive weapons, attempted murder etc., only the blanket charge of violent disorder was invoked.
Moreover, despite the van occupants’ original pleas of "not guilty" all round, these were changed by three of the four defendants to "guilty" in July 1992. Why the sudden change of heart? Was there a deal, so that at the eventual trial the impression would be given of a single fanatic acting alone, rather than of an organised racial attack by members of a neo-Nazi organisation?
It is another uncomfortable fact that the legal process was allowed to drag on for almost two years before the final appearance at court. Witnesses were told repeatedly that the case was to be heard on a certain date, only to have it postponed - without explanation. The passage of time could of course, only weaken the prosecution case. Memories would fail; key witnesses might become unavailable. Several independent witnesses who had made statements and had been told that they would be called, were later told that their evidence would not be called after all, again without explanation.
At the heart of these murky circumstances, was the inexplicable decision of the judge to rule that the weapons cache was to be kept secret from the jury. Despite constituting a serious criminal offence in itself, and despite constituting the clearest evidence of intent and identity (why carry CS gas, a catapult or a knuckleduster around in your van, unless you intend to attack, or have attacked someone?) no mention of the van's armoury could be made. In essence, the weapons were the damning evidence of premeditated, organised criminal intent, and it was deliberately hushed up, for the very reason that it was too incriminating!
On Friday 2nd July the four defendants were brought back for sentencing. Once again, AFA mounted a picket of the court. Although Barker was left to his own devices throughout the week-long trial, a mob of BNP minders were expected to attend the sentencing. Surely Neil Parrish would show up to support his own brother? He didn't. A small team of three BNP boneheads sat in on the morning session, greeted enthusiastically by their friends in the dock, but refused to leave the building when the hearing was adjourned for lunch. They eventually left through the back door, escorted by the police, without waiting for the court to resume. The consternation on the faces of Barker, Parrish and Co. when they failed to reappear during the second half was a treat.
In mitigation, Barker's brief frankly found nothing to say. Speaking for Marsh, his lawyer announced that he wanted to apologise, not only to the victims of the attack, but to the whole Asian community. The best was yet to come.
For Paul Lincoln, who looked the village idiot of the group, his brief explained to the court that he had joined the BNP solely because of his interests in Renaissance History. He was also a keen member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and therefore should not go to jail! Presumably Lincoln's brief knew a lost cause when he saw one, and decided to play it for laughs which he certainly got.
All had previous: Paul Parrish for attacking an Indian Restaurant and together with Marsh, giving someone a hiding at a bus stop (another race attack?). He had several other convictions for violent offences including affray. Parrish, Lincoln and Marsh all received the remarkably (but not surprisingly) lenient sentence of 21 months: with six months added for Parrish who was serving a six month suspended anyway. Marsh, who had looked close to tears before hearing the sentence, gave his girlfriend a two-fisted thumbs up as he left the dock. Barker got three years. With time already served and remission, all will be out within a year.
The police frequently complain that racist events cannot be prosecuted, because there is no evidence that they are linked to the commission of violent offences. Well, here is a case of a racist gig immediately followed by a savage racist attack by those who attended it, organised it, and even played at it! The circumstances of the attack indicate that it was clumsily executed. Its carelessness wasn't typical of BNP ventures of this type: plainly, the participants were hyped up by the gig. Further, the gig brought the participants together in circumstances where an attack was likely to ensue, should the opportunity arise. To that extent, the gig caused the attack. Yet there has never been a whisper than "Blood and Honour" events should be banned.
Through the judicial murk, the lessons of the case remain clear. The BNP (and other neo-Nazi organisations like the National Front) claim in their public announcements, to operate within the law. They claim not to encourage race attacks. Of course, anyone familiar with BNP activities knows very well that the opportunity for inciting and committing race attacks (or attacks on "reds" or homosexuals) is the only point of joining. But for anyone in doubt, the Buntingford attack provides the strongest possible refutation of these claims to be "normal" political parties.
A group of self-confessed BNP members attend a gig organised by a neo-Nazi music organisation, whose supporters are themselves drawn almost exclusively from the BNP. They leave a racially inflammatory concert in a vehicle containing BNP literature alongside openly Nazi publications and paraphernalia such as a 6’ x 4’ swastika flag, together with a collection of weapons that a judge describes as a “Veritable arsenal”! These are used to attack a group of people with no provocation over than the fact that they are Bengali. The equation of BNP = Nazis = Race attacks could hardly be illustrated with greater force.
AFA believes that the case has highlighted a further important feature of the fight against fascism and the racial attacks that it breeds. Some anti-fascist elements, such as the ANL or ARA, believe that the police and the judiciary should be called upon to take stronger action against the race hate organisations. The Buntingford case shows the futility of such a strategy. If incidents such as the Buntingford attack were to receive the publicity and attention appropriate to the seriousness of the offences committed and the problem they represent, the police and judicial system would be obliged to devote far greater resources to race attacks than they currently do. This is the last thing that they want.
Setting the Agenda
The police and judiciary do not consider racial incidents to be their responsibility. It is highly questionable whether either system, despite occasional public protestations, actually regards racism as a crime. For them, it is a "natural" or "inevitable" product of a multi-racial society and out of their proper jurisdiction. Their personnel frequently share the same perceptions of ethnic minorities as the race attackers themselves. On top of this, right wing politicians regard the fascists as an essential lubricant for their own racist policies. The fascists create a racist agenda on which the "decent" parties of "order' then capitalise.
There is a consistent pattern. As in Germany, racist atrocities are followed by a decent outpouring of public outrage and then by legislation directed against the members of the minorities being attacked! As in Germany, those caught red-handed in race attacks will be treated with the upmost leniency by the legal system. The clear implication is that the very presence of racial minorities ''provokes" the attackers, and that racial offences therefore, by definition, are always attended by mitigating circumstances.
A genuine effort to eliminate organised racism is against the state's own interests and the state will consequently not make those efforts. The only circumstances in which the state would act against fascist organisations, would be as part of an offensive against certain groups on the left, for which prosecution of the fascists would act as cover. By calling for tougher police action, the left is making a rod for its own back. Only the independent, direct and committed action of working class militants will effectively destroy the racists and the organisations behind them.