Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Written Evidence

Submission from Searchlight Information Services

Issue 1: Should existing religious offences (notably blasphemy) be amended or abolished?

  1.1  It is our opinion that the offence of blasphemy should be abolished.

  1.2  In a multi-cultural and multi-faith society, which Britain is today, it is inequitable that some faiths should be protected while others, sometimes with a larger following, do not have the same legal protection. Blasphemy is also a difficult offence to define so that a jury can consider it.

Issue 2: Should a new offence of incitement to religious hatred be created and, if so, how should the offence be defined?

  2.1  At present Christians have limited protection under the blasphemy laws and Jews and Sikhs have some, albeit inadequate, protection under race relations legislation. However, Muslims, Hindus and other religions have little protection.

  2.2  We submit that attempts by extreme organisations to incite religious hatred in Britain have left many communities unprotected or inadequately protected, and resulted in violence against these communities. We wish to cite some examples of this from the past five years.

  2.3  At the beginning of last year, the British National Party (BNP), an organisation that devotes itself to spreading hatred and physically indulging in street actions against minority communities, declared Oldham to be "the front line in the coming race war". The BNP's leaders have criminal convictions for hate crimes, offences such as nail bombing and violence that are politically motivated, and many others that are not politically associated, including robbery, drug dealing and rape.

  2.4  In Oldham, Bradford and Burnley the effect of the BNP's presence and activities was apparent well before last summer's serious riots. One front cover of the BNP magazine, Identity, depicted fires burning in towns up and down the country. Some of those towns had not suffered riots of a racial nature at that time, but did so after this edition of Identity appeared.

  2.5  The leader of the BNP today is Nick Griffin, a man with a hate crime conviction in the 1980s. He visited Libya in an attempt to obtain secret funding from the Gaddafi regime and tried to ally the party he led at the time with various extremist nationalist organisations that preached religious and racial separatism. Yet last year he sought allies among the most extreme elements of the Sikh and Hindu communities in Britain against the Muslim community. Some of these extreme groups have been involved in murder and terrorism in the Indian sub-continent, as well as crimes in Britain including murder, and needed no encouragement.

  2.6  After the horror of 11 September the BNP ran an openly anti-Islamic campaign with the assistance of its new-found friends. The BBC Panorama programme on the BNP broadcast at the end of last year, to which we made a major contribution, exposed this alliance and explained that it had very limited support in the Hindu and Sikh communities. However after 11 September the media were almost hysterical in the way they portrayed the Muslim community.

  2.7  The BNP started a rumour in Bradford that the police had raided a local mosque and found weapons and a firing range in the basement. Although the police denied this absolutely, the BNP used the same smear in the local council elections of May 2002. A BNP election manifesto in the London Borough of Redbridge made the same claim about a mosque in that borough. We also recently found that the trustees of a synagogue in Exeter had received a telephone call which tried to spread a tale of arms and firing ranges at a local mosque there.

  2.8  Two court cases are pending at present concerning attempts by far-right extremists to attack mosques in the London and Oxford areas. These matters are sub judice and one case may not be heard for some months but involved the potential use of military plastic explosive and sophisticated firearms.

  2.9  Such plots are, of course, outside the law. What is beyond rational belief is the fact that the police have not been able to get the green light to prosecute the BNP and others for the lying and hateful propaganda that is inciting such acts against Muslims.

  2.10  Letters are circulating that purport to have been written by Muslims attacking Sikhs and Hindus. Analysis shows that these are clearly the work of Sikh extremists, as the letters display ignorance of the Muslim faith. There are also posters circulating in London and elsewhere that juxtapose obviously respectable Sikhs against a picture of Osama bin Laden, with the intention of accusing all Muslims of being potential terrorists. This material sparked much trouble between teenagers of both faiths. Although the police investigated this and similar material, they were powerless to act.

  2.11  Just before last year's failed attempt to amend the race relations laws to include religious hate, the BNP produced leaflets inciting hate against the Muslim community and told party members to distribute them quickly as they would be illegal in six weeks. The police in Leeds jumped the gun, raided a BNP supporter's home after he displayed such hate material and seized it, only to return it after the Bill failed in Parliament.

  2.12  Even the existing legal protection for Jews is problematical. Often no prosecutions are brought where anti-Semitic material, often of an obscene nature, is sent to Jews, because the Attorney-General considers the sending of anti-Semitic material to Jews does not constitute incitement because Jews cannot be incited against themselves. So elderly men and women, in some case survivors of the Holocaust, have to suffer filth dropping on their door mats as no one is being incited.

  2.13  I know many police officers, some of whom might be prepared to address your Committee, who feel that officers become disheartened in pursuing such cases because, despite the damage being caused, the law allows the perpetrators to get away with their hate activities.

  2.14  We would like the opportunity to place before your Committee examples of audio material being distributed by the BNP and leaflets and posters circulated by the BNP and by nationalist and religious extremists in the Sikh and Hindu communities. We would also wish to give oral evidence to you and answer your questions, as we did when we gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee's inquiry into Racial Attacks and Harassment in 1993.

  2.15  We strongly support legislation against incitement to religious hatred and consider it could be introduced by amending the public order sections of the race relations legislation. Such a measure, coupled with the existing human rights legislation, could offer justice and fairness to all faiths. It is our belief that there would be no significant opposition to such changes in the law.

  2.16  We also believe that the Attorney-General's fiat with regard to charges for conspiracy to incite should be removed and the Crown Prosecution Service encouraged to take a vigorous line on such crimes because of the potential damage they cause to the life and fabric of our nation.


  Searchlight was formed in 1962 as a non-sectarian body with all-party parliamentary support and three objectives:

    (a)  gathering intelligence on fascist, nazi and racist organisations and individuals;

    (b)  analysis of that intelligence;

    (c)  the publication in Searchlight's own journals and the general media of the results of this research.

  These objectives have expanded greatly over the past 40 years. Searchlight now consists of three bodies: Searchlight Magazine, an international anti-fascist publication; Searchlight Information Services, a research body which provides governments, institutions, the media and individuals with hard information and analysis; and Searchlight Educational Trust, a charity with a brief of educating the public about the dangers of racism and fascism.

  Searchlight has acted as researcher and adviser to many MPs, councillors, lawyers and local, national and international organisations. The national and international media have drawn widely on Searchlight's research. Searchlight played a major role in researching and writing the section on far-right and racist groups in the report of the European Parliament's Commission of Inquiry into Racism and Xenophobia in 1990-91 and gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee's inquiry into racial attacks and harassment in 1993 and to the Lawrence Enquiry in 1998.

  Searchlight maintains an international network of researchers and journalists, which operates across Europe, North America and Australia. This enables Searchlight to chart the development among the nazi organisations of international co-operation and the movement of activist and terrorist members.

  Gerry Gable is a vice chair of the Independent Advisory Group to the Diversity Directorate of the Metropolitan Police Service at Scotland Yard.

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