BNP leader joins soldiers' mourners

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The Independent Online

BNP leader Nick Griffin was present in Wootton Bassett today to see the bodies of six soldiers pass through the town after their repatriation from Afghanistan to British soil.

Mr Griffin stood on the high street where hearses carrying the soldiers' Union Flag-draped coffins were due to arrive.

Wearing a black coat, adorned with a poppy, the controversial MEP stood with a minder opposite family and friends of the fallen soldiers.

Mr Griffin said: "I wanted to come here today because this is the second worst toll to be coming through and because tomorrow is Remembrance Day.

"So it's fitting that as many people as possible come here today."

He added: "It's an absolutely tremendous and very moving display."

Mr Griffin said he had a "friendly" reaction from the public to his presence.

"It's been very low key, I've been talking to many people and it's been very friendly," he said.

When asked for his view on the conflict in Afghanistan after the loss of the five soldiers killed by a rogue Afghan police officer, Mr Griffin said: "This is not the time or the place for political statements - it's for remembrance. I have strong views on Afghanistan but I'm not prepared to discuss them here."

Standing yards from Mr Griffin was veteran Martyn Matthews, 61, a retired warrant officer who served for 27 years with the commando forces.

Mr Matthews, from Corsham, Wiltshire, said: "We live in a democracy and everyone has a right to their own views. If people are going to give their lives for that freedom, Mr Griffin has as much right to his views as anyone else does.

"Although I do not stand by his views, I would encourage him to be here to see the impact extremism can have."

They were among hundreds of people who turned out to pay their respects to six soldiers killed in Afghanistan as their bodies returned to British soil today.

Warrant Officer Class 1 Darren Chant, 40, Sergeant Matthew Telford, 37, and Guardsman Jimmy Major, 18, from the Grenadier Guards, died alongside Corporal Steven Boote, 22, and Corporal Nicholas Webster-Smith, 24, from the Royal Military Police.

They were shot dead by a "rogue" Afghan police officer at a secure checkpoint in Nad-e-Ali in Helmand Province on November 3 in an attack claimed by the Taliban.

Two days later, Serjeant Phillip Scott, 30, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, was killed by an improvised explosive device near Sangin in Helmand.

After a private chapel ceremony for families at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, hearses carrying their Union flag-draped coffins were driven to the High Street of nearby Wootton Bassett for a memorial procession.

Under cloudy skies and drizzling rain, soldiers lined the streets of the town alongside Royal British Legion veterans, shopkeepers and residents to pay tribute to the fallen men.

As the cortege passed along the High Street, silence fell, broken only by the chiming bells of St Bartholomew and All Saints Church.

Standard-bearers from the Royal British Legion lowered their flags as the coffins passed by.

As the procession paused by the war memorial, which was covered in floral tributes, roses and wreaths were placed on the hearses by relatives and friends.

Tearful family members wept as the coffins drove by - some wearing T-shirts bearing the name of their fallen loved one.

The procession then continued to Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, where post-mortem examinations are completed.