The newsletter from the British National Party could hardly contain its glee. “Reports of our demise were greatly exaggerated,” wrote the far-right party’s new treasurer Clive Jefferson last month. “The British National Party is here to stay and here to fight.”
The letter, which was emailed out to all members and posted online, was an update on the party’s suddenly resurrected finances. After a massive overspend during the last European and general elections, it was no secret that the BNP was as financially emasculated as it was politically. But in the last twelve months, Jefferson announced, donations had swelled by a remarkable 730% from £32,000 in 2011 to £265,987.
What made the figure even more remarkable was that £200,000 worth of donations last year came from just one person – an elderly man that the BNP said was a former Tube driver from London called Albert Stanmore who left them the money in his will.
It was a remarkable turn of events. After a drubbing in the general election and subsequent acrimonious infighting – some of which ended in costly legal battles – the BNP had lurched back into the black thanks largely to a single elderly man who had come to the rescue with an extraordinarily generous bequest.
Yet when The Independent went looking for Albert Stanmore, he didn’t seem to exist. The BNP referred to him in their newsletter as “Albert Stanmore” whilst the party’s press man Simon Darby said he was a “long term member” and Tube driver who was “particularly upset” about the demographic changes in East London. But the party declined to give any further information.
Any donor to a political party needs to be on the electoral register and parties must check that anyone who leaves them money in a bequest has been on the register at some point in the last five years before their donation.
Searches for an Albert Stanmore drew a blank, not just across London but across the country. His name also did not appear on the various BNP membership lists that were leaked onto the web in 2009.
Eventually The Independent was able to ascertain that the donor’s real name was Albert Starmore. The change of an “r” to an “n” is an easy one to make and the Electoral Commission confirmed that the BNP had in fact spelt the name correctly when they filed their donor reports, meaning the mistake came from their end. However the BNP’s literature repeated the incorrect spelling of Mr Starmore’s name once the Electoral Commission released the party donation results last month.
Armed with the new name we were able to build up a picture of the kind of person the 77-year-old was and why he might have made such a large donation to a far-right party. What we discovered was a hard-working, serious and quiet man who became increasingly reclusive in his old age and privately seethed against the non-white faces that appeared in his neighbourhood. He was also a man who – somewhat inexplicably to those who knew him – decided to end his own life.
Albert was born in November 1933 and spent most of his life in East London, primarily in Chingford. A tall and slim man he spent his working life driving trains – not Tubes. He briefly married in the mid-1990s but otherwise was a perennial bachelor.
For the last two decades he lived in a large ground floor flat on Buxton Road with his elderly mother Elizabeth and younger brother Robert. They both passed away before him and with no descendants he decided to leave the flat to the British National Party in his will. The party wouldn’t disclose when Mr Starmore decided to bequeath them his flat or talk in detail about his death.
However The Independent has learned that Mr Starmore was found dead by his neighbour in his flat on 16 October 2011. The local Coroners’ Court later recorded a verdict of suicide by suspension. Following his death the flat, which currently has white-washed windows and is unoccupied, went to the BNP who sold it for their campaign funds and helped arrange his funeral.
Mr Starmore’s decision to leave the BNP such a generous gift caused surprise among some of his friends.
“I never knew he was in that party, he never spoke about politics,” said one long-term friend who was in regular contact with Mr Starmore for the last 30 years and asked not to be named. “He was very nice but he didn’t have any sense of humour.”
Pressed for further details the friend admitted there were signs that he might be attracted to a party like the BNP because of his fear of new arrivals in his neighbourhood.
“He was scared to go out,” the friend said. “He wouldn’t go up the road. He’d phone to say I’m going out and I’ll phone you when I get back. He was frightened of being attacked.”
And while he never talked much about politics, race mattered to Mr Starmore. “He never mentioned BNP to me,” the friend added. “But he didn’t like the blacks and Asians and that. He used to say Chingford was getting full of them, I remember him saying that.”
Either way what Mr Starmore’s donation reveals is an increasingly common funding tactic that is now being adopted by the BNP – encouraging members and sympathisers to give them money in bequests.
The party now has a whole web page devoted to legacies with a dedicated email for those thinking of making a post-mortem donation and advice on how to do it. As the e-letter from Clive Jefferson explains: “As Treasurer of the BNP, I took the decision to promote legacies to the Party in publications, on our website and at private meetings with those who expressed interest. This sensitive but vital work goes on quietly in the background all the time.”
And it’s clearly working. Almost all the money received by the party last year came from legacies. On top of Mr Starmore’s £200,000 (paid in two instalments of £100,000), a Brian Mincherton gave £35,000 in his will whilst an Edward Hart left £28,736.97. The only living donor registered was one Russell Webb, who gave the party £2,250.
Party spokesman Simon Darby admitted that part of the reason they encouraged legacies was the fear members had for donating while they were alive. “A lot of people keep their heads below ground because they don’t want the threats from the left,” he said. He added that Mr Starmore’s donation was “probably the biggest” the party had received and vowed that more bequests were on their way.
Critics of the BNP, however, say the party’s financial situation is not as rosy as the triumphant newsletter suggested. Next year will be a crunch time moment for the BNP because it has to try and hang on to party leader Nick Griffin’s European Parliament seat, a position which entitles them to a large chunk of EU funding. Andrew Brons, who also won an MEP seat back in 2009, left the party last year following a major bust up with Mr Griffin and others.
The loss of their only European seat would close down a desperately needed cash source for the beleaguered party.
“The reason the BNP are going down the route of legacies is because all the other fundraising routes have dried up for them,” said a spokesperson for Hope Not Hate, which campaigns against the far-right in the UK. “They were hopeful of being able to pull finances in by making a big political breakthroughs and of course the opposite took place. They've been basically squeezed out of existence. The final straw will be when they lose their one European seat.”
Unless, of course, there are a few more Albert Starmores waiting in the wings.