Informer exposes neo-Nazi football gangs: Tim Hepple, who infiltrated the British National Party after a decade as a football hooligan and neo-Nazi activist, says a new more violent group, Combat 18, is behind many racial attacks, Tim Kelsey reports

BRITISH neo-Nazis are forging closer links with gangs of football hooligans, and have been invited on weapons training courses by American far-right groups, according to an informer within the British National Party.

Tim Hepple, who infiltrated the London headquarters of the BNP two years ago for the magazine Searchlight, blames a new group associated with the BNP - Combat 18 - for vicious racial attacks in the past 18 months. Members of the 'Chelsea Headhunters', a gang of football hooligans, are among its most active members. Combat 18 also has close links with the outlawed Ulster Defence Association.

Scotland Yard's National Football Intelligence Unit said this week that the 'Chelsea Headhunters', with about 80 members, was the largest of the organised gangs and responsible for crimes ranging from rape to robbery. The BNP has been busily recruiting gang members, and has 'borrowed' others to pick fights with anti-fascist groups.

Mr Hepple also reveals in At War with Society, an account of his experiences, that the BNP is forging ties with an American white supremacist group, the Church of the Creator, based in Wisconsin. The church was founded by a millionaire, Ben Klassen, in 1973. The group is running a weapons training school for visiting neo-Nazis with sub- machine guns and high powered pistols - targets feature pictures of blacks and Jews. A representative of the recently established British branch of the church visited the US headquarters last year. A group of BNP members is planning a visit this summer. According to Mr Hepple, the church's virulently anti-semitic literature is sold by the BNP as 'simple background reading material'.

Football hooligans started to join the BNP in large numbers during 1988. The party was vigorously recruiting from the football gangs, including those of Leeds United and Glasgow Rangers. But the number of activists remained small - not more than 80.

By the end of 1992, however, a new phenomenon emerged, threatening to eclipse the BNP. Mutual dissatisfaction with the poor performance of the BNP, has brought the more violent BNP members, skinheads and members of the Chelsea Headhunters together in Combat 18. The group's foundation was inspired in 1991 by a notorious American Nazi, Harold Covington. His address in New Carolina is used as an offshore mailing address for the group.

The prime British mover of Combat 18, who has two convictions for drug trafficking, has a close relationship with one of the founders of the Chelsea Headhunters. Another leading light was formerly National Front organiser in Croydon, south London. The Croydon BNP is most involved with Combat 18.

Combat 18 also contains members of the 657 crew from Portsmouth, and groups from West Ham, Leeds and Millwall.

Mr Hepple has identified close links between Combat 18 and Protestant paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. Combat 18 aims to set up a group of virtually autonomous cells across the country and is responsible for an increase in racial violence. Its magazine Redwatch urges attacks on selected individuals including Sir Ivan Lawrence MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Select committee. The group is believed to be stockpiling weapons.

One prominent Combat 18 member, a dustman in south London, was arrested recently for possession of firearms.

One of Combat 18's first actions was an attack on anti-fascist campaigners in Tower Hamlets last year. Several people were arrested. There have been a string of incidents since then.

Two leading Midlands BNP activists, also involved with Combat 18, have been charged with affray and assault following an attack on anti-fascists in Mansfield this year. After an attack, Combat 18 usually sends a letter to the victim admitting responsibility.

The skinhead element, so important to the BNP, seems to prefer the more overt violence of Combat 18 and is shifting its allegiance.

Mr Hepple drifted into this underworld in the early 1980s. He was hooligan at Reading football club. In 1984, he joined the National Front. A gifted pianist and conductor, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in Glasgow in 1986. He then switched his allegiance to Glasgow Rangers and shortly afterwards was inducted into the BNP.

The far right was in violent turmoil during the mid-1980s. Rivalries between the National Front and BNP precluded much activity against racial targets. The BNP is led by John Tyndall, self- appointed Fuhrer and ex-convict, who did not want to promote his party as openly Nazi. This did not please hardcore national socialists (Mr Hepple among them) who tried to undermine the BNP and set up alternatives.

The National Front was virtually defunct during the period; the BNP was not much more coherent. Mr Hepple paints a picture of a dimly-lit world inhabited by charlatans and fanatics. Mr Hepple described his motivation: 'I just wanted to smash the state, to show my anger, to hate somebody. Like many others I was scared for the future and had little respect for myself. The BNP provided me with a sense of identity.'

In late 1986, Mr Hepple was studying music at Sheffield University. He was a prominent BNP activist in Leeds, trying to recruit members among hooligan supporters of Leeds United.

On 20 April 1988, the local Nazis arranged a rally to mark Hitler's birthday. In full Nazi regalia, they converged on Glossop Moor where a Luftwaffe fighter had crash-landed during the war. The group usually spent its time trying to sell Holocaust News, a pamphlet denying the existence of the Final Solution, and abusing ethnic minority staff outside the town hall.

Mr Hepple was rising to prominence as a reliable - and violent - militant. He organised an attack on a meeting of Labour students at the university.

He played a leading role in organising a demonstration in Dewsbury in 1989 during which 82 Asians were arrested after fights with BNP members and assorted skinheads.

But his doubts about the BNP were growing: 'I knew there was something wrong with a lot of the people I was involved with.' While working in a motorway service station as a cook he offered to become an informer for the anti- fascist magazine Searchlight. He started in October 1991, and by the beginning of the following year had become a confidant of the BNP leadership. He became a full-time worker at its headquarters in Welling, south London, which had been bought by its deputy leader, Richard Edmonds, with his severance pay of pounds 18,000 from Cable and Wireless. He provided Searchlight with a list of 3,000 BNP members

Mr Hepple was unmasked in January and is now in hiding.

At War With Society; pounds 4 from Searchlight, 37B New Cavendish St, London W1M 8JR.

(Photograph omitted)