Saturday, 7 November 2009

Dissecting the Dowsons

From Hope not Hate:

The leak of the BNP membership list last month has turned the spotlight on the party's Belfast call centre, the tensions it has caused in the party, and the links between the man who runs it and a charity that has received a six-figure sum in EU funding. Matthew Collins and Simon Cressy investigate.

The posting on the internet of a British National Party membership list two days before the BNP leader's prized appearance on Question Time was a huge embarrassment to the fascist party. After the BNP lost an earlier list of members and contacts last year, the party promised to put security measures in place to ensure such a thing could never happen again. It was only because of this promise that the BNP managed to stem a walkout of members concerned about losing their jobs and friends because of the revelation of their racist adherence.

Searchlight can now reveal that the "security measures" consisted of handing over the files to Jim Dowson, a hardline anti-abortion activist with a string of criminal convictions, who runs the party's "secret" administrative lair in Northern Ireland.

In what has become known as the BNP's Belfast bunker, an office on an industrial estate in Dundonald, Dowson's private company,, employs staff recruited through employment agencies, to handle BNP members' personal information. Staff are not security vetted, though East Europeans and Asians applying for work at the call centre are automatically rejected, in contravention of employment legislation.

Staff, one of whom is the wife of a police officer working at Castlereagh police station, do not even have to sign a confidentiality clause. Yet one of their roles was to persuade up to 3,000 lapsed members that their personal information and membership details would now be kept securely and encrypted in the secretive call centre.

Dowson has told the police that a former staff member leaked the membership data after leaving her job taking a laptop computer in lieu of £2,000 that she claimed she was owed in unpaid wages.

One of the employment agencies that supplied staff to Adlorries was Office Angels. The firm would only speak to Searchlight through a PR company but confirmed that it had supplied staff to the call centre. A statement from Office Angels said it had terminated the contractual arrangement once it learned that Adlorries was a "third party supplier to the BNP". It added:
We do not discriminate against a person's race, age or sex. It is totally against Office Angels' values to do this, not to mention against the law.
The BNP claimed that Northern Ireland was a "safe haven" away from the strong opposition the party faces on mainland Britain. Since spring this year the BNP has carried out almost all its telephone fundraising and recruitment activities from the Dundonald office and another in nearby Ballyhackamore. Staff solicit donations and send out information packs all over the UK for a wage of £6 an hour plus commission based on the amount they raise.

Since the move to Northern Ireland the party has been trying desperately to plug a succession of embarrassing leaks to the Irish press identifying key personnel in the Irish operation and exposing the gradual and almost forced takeover of the BNP by a man who claimed publicly to have "stepped down" from fundraising for the party, but who still has his hand very firmly on the BNP's purse strings.

Gradually, since Dowson first became involved with the BNP in late 2007, he has taken over more and more of the party's operations and drawn the BNP further into his web of business, campaigning and charity interests.

Until the membership list leak, BNP members were receiving an average of three telephone calls a month from the call centre, soliciting donations and encouraging people to renew their membership early or upgrade to the life or gold membership schemes.

Legal action by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has forced the BNP to suspend recruiting members while it makes changes to its constitution. Instead, Dowson is now desperately trying to revive the near moribund Trafalgar Club, members of which contribute at least £15 a month in exchange for an annual dinner with speech by Nick Griffin, the party leader, usually in a smart country hotel, on the Saturday nearest to Trafalgar Day, 21 October.
Dowson has also put his staff onto increasing subscriptions to the party periodical Voice of Freedom as well as making begging phone calls for donations to fight the EHRC's case against the BNP. In reality the funds are being raised to pay the EHRC's costs, which are likely to be awarded against the BNP, after Griffin gave up the hopeless battle.

All these calls are made from the same telephone lines that the Dowson family use for their charity, anti-abortion work and the plumbing business run by James Dowson Jr. In overall charge of answering and dispatching calls to the correct part of the set-up is Marion Thomas, Dowson's sister-in-law.

Marion Thomas is married to Alex Thomas, who acts as chair of Solas, a Northern Ireland charity, which he runs together with Dowson. Solas NI is a victim support group set up in 2003 to help bereaved and injured victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles. It says its aim is "to ensure that those most affected by the Troubles have recourse to a non-political and non-sectarian organisation which caters specifically for their needs".

Solas operates from the same address and uses the same telephone number as another Dowson organisation, the Christian Youth Fellowship.

When Searchlight telephoned the number it was answered by a woman with a Scottish accent who gave her name as Marion. We then asked to speak to Jim [Dowson] and she proceeded to connect us.

Searchlight has discovered that up to March 2007 Solas received £111,479 of funding under a European Union programme for peace and reconciliation. The money, part of a £6.8 million allocation for projects in Northern Ireland in 2006-07, came via Proteus, an intermediate funding body.

Announcing the grants, Pat Donnelly, chief executive of Proteus, said: "There is real evidence that projects funded by PEACE II [the EU programme] have contributed to a significant change in mindset and created the necessary preconditions for genuine cooperation and improvements to take place".

Dowson's past record and current involvement with the racist BNP, which only seeks to divide communities, shows that cooperation is the last thing on his mind.

As well as controlling income coming in through the call centre, Dowson has placed his own accountant John Thompson to look after the BNP's books. Thompson, who is based in Comber, also looks after the accounts for Alex Thomas and Dowson's anti-abortion campaign, the UK LifeLeague.

Last April, Griffin announced that the "current and anticipated growth" of the BNP had necessitated the formation of a "full Treasury Department" headed by a professional chartered accountant", whom he did not name. Thompson's main achievement in that role appears to be the failure to produce the party's 2008 accounts on time, incurring a fine of at least £1,000 under electoral legislation.

Thompson was supposed to work under the oversight of the BNP's treasurer. At the time of his appointment this was one of the many party positions held by Simon Darby, the deputy leader. Thompson is believed to have clashed a number of times with Darby over the payment of bills, in particular to Romac Press Ltd in east Belfast, which now does the party's printing, including the endless begging letters the party sends out to an esoteric mailing list.

It appears that Romac Press, which also prints for Dowson's other operations, is being lined up to print Voice of Freedom. Senior party members on the mainland are said to be resisting the move, but Dowson hopes this may placate the owners who still have a large bill to be settled.

Senior BNP officers on the mainland have also voiced concern over the apparent independence of the Irish operation. They include Simon Bennett, the BNP's webmaster, Eddy Butler, the national organiser, Martin Wingfield, the Communications and Campaigns Officer for the two BNP MEPs, and even Darby. Bennett is especially aggrieved because Dowson is earning commission on the money he raises for the party. Bennett was offered commission on donations raised through the BNP website but the party appears to have reneged on the promise.

Searchlight can reveal that it was Griffin's sole decision to give Dowson free rein to run major BNP administrative functions. Perhaps it was to pacify them that the BNP announced in June the appointment of Emma Colgate as the party's administration officer in place of "consultant Jim Dowson", though in fact Dowson's role has not changed.

Dowson's remit is not limited to Northern Ireland, however. During the European election campaign the BNP announced proudly that it had acquired a number of office premises to house its growing operations, but kept the locations secret.

Searchlight has discovered that early this year the party leased three rooms in a smart building on the Salmon Springs Trading Estate in Stroud Gloucestershire for "training" at a cost of £5,000 per year. However it was not the BNP's name on the tenancy but that of The three-year lease was a waste of the BNP's money. Except for one meeting, at which the party sacked Michaela Mackenzie from her positions as administration officer and national nominating officer, the offices have remained unused and unfurnished.

It is different in Nuneaton, where the former pub landlord Alwyn Deacon is fronting the BNP's merchandising operation, Excalibur, complete with a mini call centre with 20 phone lines, in a property leased in his own name from the local Conservative council in Slingsby Close on the Attleborough Fields Industrial Estate. Deacon and his wife follow a series of fundraising guidelines set down by Dowson, under which former customers of Excalibur as well as all other party members and even members of the UK Independence Party are bombarded with phone calls and special offers.

How the BNP will afford these new premises is unclear. Any attempt to hide the costs in the party's expenses claims for the new MEPs would of course be fraudulent.

Partly to meet the concerns of members of the Party's national advisory council about Dowson's power in the party, Griffin's daughter Jennifer and her new husband Angus Matthys moved into a flat in Comber last month to begin work at the Dundonald call centre. Ms Griffin, a former leader of the Young BNP, once manned the tills at the same Co-op store where her father was briefly employed. Now she is allegedly forging her father's signature on the photograph of the revered leader that gold party members receive as thanks for their generosity.

Since moving to Northern Ireland, Jennifer is believed to have concurred with Arthur Kemp, the South African former apartheid intelligence agent who now edits the BNP website, that despite his father's wishes, Dowson's eldest son, James, could not be publicly annointed as the head of the BNP's youth wing. The decision has apparently caused resentment in the Dowson family as the Griffin and Dowson heirs vie for supremacy in the call centre.

However, this has not stopped Mr and Mrs Matthys joining Dowson Jr as members of the Goldsprings "kick the Pope" marching and flute band, a clear sign that despite the BNP's protestations to Anglo-Irish members on the mainland, a strict evangelical, racist and sectarian policy still runs through the very core of the BNP.

Another of Dowson's religious cohorts unpopular with senior members on the mainland is Zak McAdam. An IT specialist who has clashed with the BNP's webmaster Simon Bennett on a number of occasions, McAdam recently made a name for himself with a one-man campaign against lesbians and computer games. A number of holders of party laptops were furious to discover that they could not access pornography after McAdam blocked access to some of the party employees' favourite porn sites.

Although the latest BNP membership list leak has been overshadowed by Griffin's Question Time appearance, limiting the damage in terms of bad publicity, advisory council members are angry and are blaming Dowson for the embarrassing loss of data that were supposedly kept encrypted.

Wingfield, whose wife Tina used to be the party's membership secretary, was the first to comment shortly before midnight on the eve of the anticipated leak. Wingfield blogged: "I know the leak certainly didn't come from our end here."

Days after Griffin's disastrous performance on Question Time and the membership list loss, Jennifer and Angus Matthys attended this year's Trafalgar Club dinner alongside Dowson at a smart country house hotel near Ross-on-Wye. The tension between senior BNP officers and Dowson, and the animosity between Griffin's daughter and Dowson Jr, cannot have made for a congenial evening.

Who's who in the Belfast bunker

Jennifer Matthys (née Griffin):
Newly married, Jennifer and her husband Angus moved to the village of Comber, where a number of the BNP's key Northern Ireland personnel already live. Until recently a checkout assistant at her local Co-op, the BNP leader's daughter (pictured with father) is supposedly entrusted with keeping a close eye on the activities of the Dowsons. A new car was thrown into the bargain to sweeten the move away from her long-time love interest Mark Collett, the controversial designer of BNP leaflets and newly appointed editor of the party's newspaper Voice of Freedom. It is Jennifer who has stopped James Dowson Jr getting his hands on the Young BNP after a battle of wills between them.

James Dowson Jr:
Until Jennifer Griffin's arrival, James Jr, Dowson's eldest son, was cock of the north around the village of Comber and in the BNP call centre from where he ran his plumbing firm, Ltd, set up with his father's financial help. Dowson Jr, 21, is a senior member of the Goldsprings flute band, a favourite of Protestants who want to "kick" the Pope. His planned rise in the BNP has been curbed since Ms Griffin came on the scene. His father is alleged to have bought him a Russian bride who upped and left not long after arriving in the Dowson home.

Marion Thomas:
Unknown until now, Marion Thomas has emerged as the key link person to the Dowson empire. Thomas, Dowson's sister-in-law, is the administrator of Dowson's various business and campaign interests and signs various documents on Dowson's behalf. Her husband, Alex Thomas, is a business partner of Dowson and chair of Solas NI, the victim support group linked to Dowson. Allegedly no great fan of Dowson, Marion allegedly keeps a record of all the business transactions that go on in Dowson's offices.

John Thompson:
Dowson's long-time accountant, Thompson was taken on last April to sort out the BNP's books and records after a succession of changes in the BNP's treasury department, which had been widely accused of incompetence at the time of the winter 2007-08 rebellion in the BNP.

Although the BNP described him as a "professional chartered accountant" he appears to have been unequal to the task and the BNP's 2008 accountants, due with the Electoral Commission by 7 July 2009, are still missing. Since the election of the BNP's two MEPs, Thompson has taken on the role of "paying agent" for the MEPs' staff on the European Parliament payroll.

Searchlight thanks all the people in Northern Ireland and England who have helped in this investigation.

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