Race violence rise 'part of far-right recruiting drive'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
First Edition

THE COMMISSION for Racial Equality and the Anti-Nazi League claim that neo-Nazi groups have targeted the West Midlands for a major recruitment drive, and increased support for far-right political parties has led to an upsurge in local racial violence.

Separate incidents in Birmingham have left the homes of two Asian families firebombed, a left-wing bookshop burnt and outside walls covered with National Front graffiti. In Dudley, bricks have been thrown through the windows of Asian homes and Asian children have been intimidated as they walk to and from school. Nearby, around Brownhills, a burning cross and Ku Klux Klan hoods have been discovered.

Figures obtained from West Midlands Police show that between 1990 and 1991 the numbers of reported incidents involving an element of race, but not necessarily of racial attack, increased by more than 30 per cent. In 1991, 419 such incidents were logged, compared with 219 reported between 1 January and 15 August this year.

Despite the fact that the force's head of community services, Supt Mike Harrison, accepted that there was 'a problem of under-reporting', a police spokeswoman has disputed that there was necessarily an increase in racial violence. 'The increase in recorded incidents could be due to new reporting methods,' she said.

However, both the commission and the league believe that local racial attacks are increasing. Chris Myant, a commission spokesman, said '. . .official British society does not yet treat it with the urgency or importance it demands. At the very least legislation should be introduced making racist violence a specific criminal offence'.

The Anti-Nazi League claims that far-right groups, including the British National Party and National Front, are using the Midlands' high level of unemployment to boost support and increase racial tension. The BNP has already distributed lealets at homes in Dudley and Walsall; in July, the NF held a rally on Cannock Chase and yesterday fielded a candidate in a local council by-election.

In the late 1970s much of the strength of the NF lay in the West Midlands. Today the party acknowledges that the membership recruitment drive in the area is 'going well'. In Dudley at the last election, the NF polled more than 600 votes. However, Ian Anderson, chairman of the front, 'denied any involvement with racial attacks . . . it would be clearly counter-productive to us trying to promote ourselves as a viable political alternative'. He added: 'As far as graffiti is concerned, in the past we have found opponents using our slogans to discredit us.'

Helen Shooter, regional representative of the Anti-Nazi League, disputes Mr Anderson's disclaimers. She claimed that as 'unemployment within the Midlands continues to rise, people are looking for scapegoats. The National Front and the British National Party are exploiting people's fears.'

She added: 'Both parties seem to be gaining confidence from what is happening in Germany.'

This view is shared by John Wrench, of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, which is based at Warwick University. 'Small racist groups are trying to use the events in Europe to inflame the worrying, but occasionally less blatant, racism which still exists in Britain.' he said. 'Because of the recession and the apparent social acceptability of the events in Germany, I fear that these groups will be more successful in the future.'