Page last updated at 21:21 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 22:21 UK

Griffin slot sparks angry scenes

By Victoria King
BBC News

Aerial view of protesters outside Television Centre
BBC staff looked out at the protests from inside Television Centre

"We are in lockdown, I repeat, Television Centre is in lockdown. Nothing in, nothing out."

Those were the words of a security guard trying to keep control as the main gates of the BBC's flagship building were besieged on Thursday night.

As BNP leader Nick Griffin aired his views on Question Time, several hundred demonstrators made their feelings very clear outside.

A protest was anticipated and planned for, but the sheer anger of those gathered and their dogged determination to try to break into TVC and prevent filming perhaps came as a surprise.

"Shame on you," they yelled, "Nazi scum, off our streets". The latter chant was presumably for Mr Griffin - the former, however, was aimed squarely at the BBC.

The sight of a large piece of paper with "TV licence" written on being set alight made that very clear.


Things began calmly enough. From around lunchtime a small crowd developed outside the BBC reception, with people waving banners vowing to "Smash the BNP".

Among those gathered was 26-year-old Adam Sheehan, who said: "The BNP is not a political party, it's a fascist organisation.

He was exposed time and time again
Khush Klare, audience member

"It's carried out racist attacks, it wants to get rid of all non-whites. You don't give a platform to someone like that."

Also in the crowd was Lia Deyal, 62, who works with immigrants and asylum seekers.

She was clear that a Question Time appearance gave Mr Griffin a new political status she was unhappy with.

"Question Time is a very legitimate programme and the BBC represents the British people," she said. "So by having him on it's making his voice legitimate and that's exactly what he wants."

A semi-formal rally had been planned for about 1700 BST with speakers to include union leaders and representatives of Unite Against Fascism.

But before those speeches could be delivered some protesters made a rush for the main gates of TV Centre.

About 25 were able to break through and run into the building - they tried to hold their ground but were soon brought out one by one - either led, dragged or carried.

Back outside, the rest of the crowd spilled into the road, blocking off Wood Lane and trapping two buses in the middle of the melee.

The bemused passengers could only watch from inside as police dodged orange flares and tried to push the demonstrators back.

Police photographers film protesters at the BBC gates
Police filmed the protests at the gates themselves


From then on, a stand-off was inevitable. Crowds pushed against the gates from the outside while the combined weight of police, BBC security and private guards tried to keep them out.

The strain was obvious. Police units took it in turns to do a stint at the gate before being relieved, sweaty and exhausted, by colleagues.

According to the Met, three were injured, one badly enough to need hospital treatment.

Another, with a bleeding scratch on his face, said: "Someone threw a stick at me. He had a black mask and a black hood.

"You get lifted off your feet in there and you start thinking, 'What if I fall down, the crowd will just close over me, I'll never get back up.'"

The odd shoe was thrown, a CS gas canister was also seized and some more unusual items caused problems.

"I just got caught in the mouth with an egg - and it wasn't cooked," one officer said.

Two workmen on Wood Lane did their best to keep protesters at bay
Two workmen on Wood Lane did their best to keep protesters at bay

All the while, nervous audience members stood corralled to one side waiting to go through security themselves and enter TVC.

Some were particularly puzzled, having come to see comedian Harry Hill, not Question Time.

But of those who were there to see the BNP leader speak, one, Frank Langan, was clear why he was there.

"I'm going to go in and find out what Nick Griffin has got to say," he said. "I don't have to agree with it, but I think it's right that he is allowed on Question Time.

"I think everybody is entitled to their own opinion, even if you don't like them."

Afterwards, audience members gave their reaction to Mr Griffin's performance.

Andrew Slater, a student at Imperial College, said: "He made a couple of valid points on immigration policy, but apart from that, not much.

"He did stand his ground quite well, but when people started to call him on quotes he'd given in the past he was trying to rephrase what he'd said."

Khush Klare, a mortgage adviser, was unequivocal: "He came across as shambolic. He was exposed time and time again.

"All non-supporters of the BNP won today."

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