BNP splinter group fights byelection

An extreme right group has broken away from the British National party (BNP) and is fighting a byelection in a bid to win its first council seat.

England First is contesting a vacancy on Lancaster city council at the end of this month, which will be the first public test of the party that was set up in the summer of last year by former BNP member Mark Cotterill.

Mr Cotterill said the deaths of 19 cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay, mainly Chinese workers, was being raised on the doorstep but denied his party was capitalising on the issue of immigrant labour.

"We're not raising this. It's the people themselves who say it's an issue," he said.

"It's being raised with us because people know what our policy is. It's to stop immigration and send them back.

"We have put out two leaflets so far in this election and we haven't mentioned the cockle pickers, although we may mention them in the next one."

The party's decision to field a candidate in the area has been widely condemned by other politicians and community leaders.

Gerry Gable, publisher of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, said: "England First are Nazis - they are conntected to all sorts of nasty stuff."

Mr Cotterill worked in the US for two years as chairman of the American Friends of the BNP before returning to this country and splitting from the party. He is acting as election agent to Paul Bamford, a politics student at Lancaster University who is standing in the Heysham South ward.

The party is looking to stand candidates in local elections where the BNP were not contesting the seat, said Mr Cotterill.

"We looked around the country at what was becoming vacant. An election was being held in Heysham and we had a member living locally who wanted to stand," he said.

"We could quite easily win. In last May's election the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats didn't even fight the seat, which hardly gave people an option. It won't take a great deal to win this."

Less than 25% of the electorate turned out for the 2003 annual election, which returned three members of the Morecambe Bay Independent party.

One of them, Shirley Reid, has resigned her council seat forcing the byelection on February 26.

Full list of candidates, Heysham South ward byelection
Paul Antony Bamford - England First party
Kenneth Brown - Conservative party
Darren Keith Clifford - Labour party
Christopher Michael Greenall - Morecambe Bay Independent party
Terence William Haldren Taylor - Liberal Democrat party
Ashley Toms - Green party.

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