BNP men fail in libel claim against magazine

Two members of the British National Party have lost a High Court libel claim against a magazine over allegations they threatened to kneecap, torture and kill two fellow party members and their families.

Christopher and Barry Roberts, brothers who both stood as parliamentary candidates for the BNP in the last General Election, had sued Searchlight magazine over the October 2003 article which focused on a London BNP rally it dubbed ‘the Night of the Short Knives'.

The brothers claimed that, as well as the allegations of violent threats, the article by Gerry Gable bore the meaning that Christopher had stolen money from a collection organised at the rally, and that he would not return it until he was threatened with the police.

However, top judge Mr Justice Eady today backed the magazine, which had pleaded a qualified privilege defence on the basis that they were merely reporting the allegations as part of their duty to report the cross-allegations in a divide of the BNP, which was in the public interest.

The judge said that there was a social or moral duty on political commentators to provide full impartial coverage of the goings-on in political parties, and any disputes, and there was a legitimate public interest in such information being made available.

And he said it was important to recognise that this was not unique to the BNP, but applied across the political spectrum.

"The same argument would hold good, presumably, for any continuing feud or controversy within the Conservative or Labour party," he said.

He said that what was important was the way in which such a dispute was reported, more than the political stance of the journalist or publisher.

"There is no doubt, for example, that Mr Gable is far from neutral so far as the BNP is concerned, but that does not mean that he is incapable of objective or disinterested reporting of what goes on within the party," he said.

He continued: "Although, naturally, it may require that any such defence be scrutinised with particular care."

The brothers were ordered to pay the magazine's legal costs to be assessed, with an upfront payment of £25,000 due within 28 days.

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