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Friday, November 11, 2005

Fair comment

Congratulations to Lewisham Lib Dems who have taken on the BNP again and won, this time in the Royal Courts of Justice.

Tess Culnane, the candidate in a by-election in Nov 2002, sued the Liberal Democrats for defamation over an item in an A3 leaflet. Her action was against Mark Morris, the candidate and Vijay Naidu the agent. The offending article read:

Don't be fooled by the BNP

The BNP are keen to persuade local residents that they are a respectable political party who will stand up for your interests. Don't be taken in!

Since the BNP became active in Downham, local people tell us they have felt more intimidated and less safe, particularly at night. There has been an increase in racist graffiti and residents have reported a number of racially motivated attacks on people and their homes. One local resident reported being followed by a gang of youths chanting racial abuse and 'BNP' and having objects thrown at him whilst trying to do his shopping.

The BNP are a blight on our area - and think how much worse it would be if they got elected! Downham would be seen by outsiders as a no-go area and house prices would fall as people would no longer be interested in moving in to our community.

Time after time, respected bodies, such as the BBC, have discovered members of the BNP with links to football hooliganism and other violent activities. And this is a party that claims to want a crackdown on crime!

Facts about the BNP leadership:

Fact: 5 out of the 15 members of the BNP Advisory Council have criminal convictions
Fact: 10 out of 27 BNP regional Party Organisers have criminal convictions.

Their offences include:

A petrol bomb attack. Possession weapons. Possession of drugs. Violent attacks. Public disorder. Criminal damage. Offences under the Explosives Act. Attacking a teacher.

When you go to vote on November 7th, ask yourself - is this the kind of person you want as your elected councillor?

The final sentence was the issue. The jury's verdict was as follows:

1. Yes, the article referred to Tess Culnane.
2. Yes, it was defamatory.
3. It was comment and not fact.
4. It was fair and honest comment ie. Yes it was pretty awful, but it was justified.

There was a separate charge of 'Malice' for Mark Morris, with the allegation that he was reckless in not caring whether or the information in the article was true or not. This was also thrown out. The Liberal Democrats won on all counts and all costs were awarded against Culnane.

An excellent result
Somebody called Bournemouth Nationalist posted a long list of alleged crimes committed by members of the main stream parties as a comment to this post. I have removed it for two reasons.

Firstly, it confused those charged (and subsequently found not guilty) with those convicted of a crime. As such it could have been taken to be defamatory and as I am responsible for what appears on this site I am not prepared to allow such a comment to remain.

Secondly, it missed the point of this post, which was to report on a libel trial and its outcome. All parties from time to time will have members who do wrong and who are punished for it. In all cases the parties concerned will disassociate themselves from the individual. However, as the leaflet which was the subject of the libel action shows, that is not the case with the BNP. When the BNP are active in an area they prey on people's fears and prejudices. Racist attacks and graffitti will increase and the party feeds off this. These are not the actions of a responsible, mainstream political party.
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