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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 04:08 GMT 05:08 UK
Witnessing the BNP success
Anti-Nazi League protesters
Anti-Nazi League protesters in Burnley

In the cavernous sports hall behind Burnley football ground, a piece of political history took place in the early hours of the morning.

To shouts of glee from supporters and flashes from dozens of cameras, two candidates from the far-right British National Party celebrated winning the group's first council seats for almost 10 years.
Carol Hughes, elected for the BNP in Burnley
BNP Burnley councillor Carol Hughes

It began quietly, with candidates and reporters crowding around the counting tables to try to assess how the night would develop.

And it ended amid chaotic scenes as one of the victorious BNP candidates was swept out of the building by supporters, refusing to answer questions.

BNP activists pushed reporters away as they tried to ask questions, and then guarded Carol Hughes' car to stop photographers taking pictures of her.

'Where everybody counts'

BNP leaders said that when they arrived for the count among the cricket nets and basketball hoops at the Turf Moor stadium's leisure centre, they had not expected to win a seat.

But they were being coy. And as the clock approached 0300 they had two seats in the bag and have high hopes for a recount in another ward, which will be held on Friday morning.


It is a sad day for Burnley and a sad day for Britain

Rafique Malik
Labour councillor
Reporters had packed the sports hall as the count began under a banner proclaiming: "Burnley - where everyone counts."

The first surprise was the turnout, unexpectedly high at 53%.

Then there was speculation of an early success for the BNP in the Gawthorpe ward, but shortly after midnight, it was announced that ex-paratrooper Andrew Kenyon had failed to win a seat by just 85 votes.

Police stepped in

But BNP disappointment at that result turned to joy about an hour later as David Edwards, a 40-year-old civil engineer, won in Cliviger with Worsthorne.

As he and his supporters celebrated, a small group of protesters moved in waving Anti-Nazi League posters, with police stepping in to keep the two sides apart.

With three candidates elected to each ward in Burnley, the BNP had targeted the area heavily, putting up 13 candidates in the 15 wards.

Mr Edwards polled 898 votes, beating off the Labour challenge to be elected along with a Conservative and an independent.

But the victorious candidate was ushered away by supporters immediately after the result, refusing to answer questions.

Hurried out

And the same thing happened about an hour later when Carol Hughes, a 38-year-old former Labour supporter, was rushed into the cold night air and into a waiting car after winning a seat in Rosegrove with Lowerhouse.

She polled 751 votes, and was elected with a Labour candidate and an independent, with two other Labour hopefuls trailing.

A former care worker, she is a section leader in a local car parts production factory.

She simply smiled and said she felt "great" before being hurried out of the building.

On her election leaflet, she denied being a racist and said Labour had lost touch with the people of Burnley.

'Nice surprise'

BNP supporters said the winning candidates would not talk to the media because they felt the party had been unfairly treated.

There were angry exchanges with reporters as Mrs Hughes faced a barrage of questions.

The deputy leader of the BNP in Burnley, Simon Bennett said the results were a "nice surprise".

"I walked in here tonight expecting to come out with no councillors," he told reporters gathered at the count.

"The people of the area have voted for the policies we were offering because they think they are the best policies to solve Burnley's problems."

'Sad day'

He said that other parties must accept the result and added: "I put out a plea to them to respect the democratic wishes of the people."

But Labour councillor Rafique Malik, who was elected for the Danehouse area, told BBC News Online: "It is a sad day for Burnley and a sad day for Britain.

"But the fact of the matter is some members of our community are very unhappy - either about the way they are being not listened to or not responded to.

"This result will tarnish the name of Burnley," he said. "I am afraid the BNP has a track record of ripping communities apart. They must remember that the British people do not tolerate extremism."

Hopes

BNP leader Nick Griffin, who was at another count, said: "It is very good news for us. It is an amazing victory."

The BNP victories are the first time a far right candidate has won a seat since Derek Beackon in the London borough of Tower Hamlets in 1993.

The party came fourth in seven Burnley wards and has high hopes for the Gannow seat, where a recount will take place on Friday.

In the 19 seats contested by the BNP so far across the country for which there are results, the BNP have scored an average of 18%.

This suggests its win in Burnley may be more than an isolated flash in the pan.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Leader of the BNP Nick Griffin
"We've engaged fully in the democratic process"
Labour Party NEC in Burnley Sahid Malik
"It's an incredibly sad day"
Gordon Burthwhistle, Mayor Elect of Burnley
"I do accept that Burnley has to improve"

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