One of Nick Griffin's closest lieutenants has been purged from the British National Party's high command amid claims of a "conspiracy" against the leadership, it emerged last night.
The party confirmed that the BNP publicity director Mark Collett, who had been lined up to stand against David Blunkett in Sheffield, had been "suspended pending a disciplinary tribunal", after a leaked memo accused him of plotting a "palace coup".
And, as the party was gripped by claims that insiders were trying to "sabotage" its election preparations, it emerged that two more officials had left head office.
Emma Colgate, a staff manager, has "stepped down from her position to concentrate fully on fighting the Thurrock parliamentary seat for the party". Eddy Butler, the party's head of elections, is also understood to have stepped down, and his name has been removed from the list of national BNP contacts.
The BNP has also told activists it had called in police after an internal leak inquiry uncovered "very serious allegations potentially affecting the personal safety" of Mr Griffin and his colleague James Dowson.
The flurry of revelations came after an internal party communication to activists accused Mr Collett of "conspiring with a small clique of other party officials to launch a 'palace coup'" against Mr Griffin.
The "BNP Organisers' Bulletin – March 2010", obtained by The Independent on Sunday, said the party's original investigation was into alleged financial irregularities, leaks and a "sustained hate campaign" against the BNP. But, after moving on to "the catalogue of recurring and seemingly inexplicable 'gaffes'" made by party figures in the run-up to the general election campaign, it uncovered "a very serious matter".
The bulletin added: "Earlier this week, the police were made aware of very serious allegations potentially affecting the personal safety of party chairman Nick Griffin and MEP and senior management/fundraising consultant James Dowson. Formal statements have now been made to the police, including by Mr Griffin.
"We therefore concluded that it was necessary to act on this immediately to ensure the safety of those at risk. The entire matter is therefore now in the hands of the police."
But, in an account of the "political conspiracy", the document said: "Lies and unfounded rumours have been spread, and were planned to be spread much further... Mr Collett has therefore been relieved of all positions within the party with immediate effect.
"There is also extensive circumstantial evidence that those involved have been working to sabotage our forthcoming local and national election campaigns."
Details of the "conspiracy" will be presented to officials from across the country at an emergency meeting of the BNP's advisory council in the Midlands tomorrow.
Mr Collett was previously sacked from the party after his controversial appearance in a Channel 4 documentary. He later faced trial alongside Mr Griffin on charges of using words or behaviour intended to stir up racial hatred, but both were found not guilty.
A BNP spokesman said last night: "Mark Collett's membership of the British National Party has been suspended pending a disciplinary tribunal." However, the party declined to comment on speculation about the status of Mr Butler and Ms Colgate – and refused to give further details of the complaint to police.
In a statement on the BNP website, Ms Colgate said she had decided to leave her post "several months ago". She added: "We're in with a real chance in Thurrock and I want to give it my best shot. I cannot properly work full-time on the campaign while being paid by EU taxpayers to manage our European staff."
A spokesman for the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight said a row about finances lay behind the feuding. It emerged last month that Mr Griffin, who was elected last year as Euro MP for the North-west of England, had submitted claims for more than £200,000 – on top of his £82,000 MEP salary – for his work in Brussels. The costs include some £18,000 in "consultancy fees" and £10,000 in "agent fees". "Discontent with Griffin's leadership has been rumbling ever since his disastrous Question Time performance, but it's the row about European expenses which has caused the explosion," the Searchlight spokesman said. "The view is Griffin has jumped aboard the Euro gravy train, and they don't like it."
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