Tougher race laws likely after BNP pair cleared

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The Independent Online

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, indicated last night that laws against inciting racial hatred might have to be strengthened after the British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin was unanimously cleared of the offence.

Despite undercover evidence from a BBC documentary which showed Mr Griffin abusing and mocking Islam and the Koran, an all-white jury in Leeds yesterday cleared him and Mark Collett, his party's head of publicity, of stirring up racial hatred. The acquittal, which came nine months after the men were cleared of similar charges, gave Mr Griffin the chance to parade before the television cameras just as his party launches an attempt to win its first foothold in the London Assembly.

Indicating the possible change in the race laws, Lord Falconer said last night: "I think we should look at them in the light of what's happened here, because what is being said to young Muslim people in this country is that we as a country are anti-Islam, and we have got to demonstrate without compromising freedom that we are not."

The Home Office said John Reid, the Home Secretary, would "think carefully" and consult other ministers about the need for changes to existing laws.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, said mainstream opinion in this country would be "offended" by some of the statements that had been made during the course of the week-long trial. "Of course, the courts make their judgments on these things," he told BBC News 24. "But if there is something that needs to be done to look at the law then I think we will have to do that. Any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend ... and I think we have got to do whatever we can to root it out, from whatever quarter it comes. If that means that we have to look at the laws again, I think we will have to do so."

Many of those committed to opposing the far right believe that the Crown Prosecution Service's (CPS) decision to prosecute the BNP was a high-risk strategy which threatened to hand Mr Griffin the publicity his party needs.

The threat of the BNP will be underlined at a conference in Birmingham today attended by Labour activists and unions from more than 70 constituencies. They will be told that the BNP plans to build on its success in Barking and Dagenham, where it is the second-biggest party on the council, to win one or two seats on the assembly in the 2008 elections, as well as securing a healthy number of votes in elections for London mayor.

Outside Leeds Crown Court, Mr Griffin opened a bottle of champagne before a crowd of 200 supporters. He said: "What has just happened shows Tony Blair and the Government and the BBC that they can take our taxes but they cannot take our hearts, they cannot take our tongues and they cannot take our freedom."

He and Mr Collett had argued before the jury that theirs were truly-held beliefs which they had a right to express, with the intention of stirring up political activity rather than hatred.

In a statement, the BBC said its role was to bring matters of public interest to general attention, not to decide on prosecutions. The CPS, which needed the Attorney General's approval to prosecute, said that the case demonstrated that incitement to racial hatred would be treated seriously. The risk of handing Mr Griffin publicity did not form part of its considerations in pursuing charges.

The two trials have provided an insight into a party which Mr Griffin has tried to portray as mainstream. The first heard how he had described the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence as "notorious for taxing the younger kids for their dinner money".

But the jury was not told that one of Mr Griffin's early problems as leader was Mr Collett's appearance in a television documentary, apparently talking about his sympathies with Hitler and the Nazis. The Channel 4 programme Young, Nazi And Proud was shown in 2002 after a reporter followed him around Leeds for eight months.

What Griffin said

* Nick Griffin's second trial centred on this speech, which he made in Keighley in 2004.

"If they get a non-Muslim girl and they get her pregnant, then her community doesn't want her, and the child generally grows up a Muslim and that's the way this wicked, vicious faith has expanded from a handful of cranky lunatics about 1,300 years ago...."

"Now those 18, 19, 20, 25-year-old Asian Muslims who are seducing and raping white girls in this town right now, they're not particularly good Muslims, they drink and all the rest of it, but still part of what they are doing comes from what they are taught is acceptable..."

"And it will get worse and worse because, as I say, it's partly the police force won't interfere. They are all brown nosing their way to the top for being politically incorrect, the Labour Government won't interfere, the Labour council won't interfere, the Muslim imams won't interfere and the white British just turn away...."

"What's happening in going to be happening in all the rest of Yorkshire in 10 years' time and what happens in Yorkshire in 10 years' time is going to be happening in Northumberland and in 15 or 20 years' time and in Cornwall as the last whites basically try and find their way to the sea."