The family of a Northumberland man who donated his entire £389,000 estate to the British National Party have launched a legal battle to claw back the cash.
Joseph Robson, 81, of Ashington, died in Alicante in March 2010 and gave his entire estate outside Spain to the BNP, leaving his two sons, Jeremy and Simon, with just £135 between them.
Now his sons say that their dad was barred from giving money to a British political party, because he had not been a registered UK voter in the five years before his death. But the BNP, represented by party treasurer Clive Jefferson, is battling against the sons’ call.
In a hearing in the High Court Patrick Harrington, who is now a key adviser to party leader, Nick Griffin, said it would be “utterly unjust” for the party to be stripped of Mr Robson’s bequest.
He said: “One son was given nothing and the other was give less than £150. It seems pretty clear that the father didn’t want the bulk of his estate to go to his two sons - he wanted it to go to a political party.
Mr Robson had every right to be on the electoral register but, for whatever reason, he was unaware of the provision that he had to be. The pathway can never lead to the sons, that can never happen.”
Mr Robson was born in 1928 before moving to Lutterworth, in Leicestershire, when he divorced from Jeremy and Simon’s mum. Following his retirement he moved to Alicante.
He made a will in 1996, leaving all his worldly goods to the BNP, apart from a Spanish bank account containing just £135 to Jeremy. But the BNP ran into trouble when it tried to lay hands on the gift when the sons claimed he was not legally permitted to make the political donation. Barrister Alex Troup, representing the executor of the will, told Judge Richard Sheldon QC that the sons claim Mr Robson failed to register on the UK electoral roll at any time during the five years prior to his death.
That meant that, under rules introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour Government in 2000 to curb “foreign donations” to British political parties, the ex-pat was not entitled to make the gift, whether dead or alive.
Phillip Capon, for the sons, told Judge Richard Sheldon QC that the rules mean that Mr Robson effectively died intestate and that, despite his wishes, his whole fortune ought to be handed to Jeremy and Simon.
Robert Grierson, representing Mr Jefferson, argued that the party had successfully overcome the problem in September 2011 by executing a deed of variation to the will which would see the money paid into a specially set up charitable trust, rather then to the party directly.
But Mr Capon insisted that moving the cash into the trust would make no difference and could not legitimise an “illegal” political donation.
He said: “The obligation under the Act is to pay the money back. The BNP is not entitled to the gift under this will. It does not have the lawful capacity under the Act to accept this gift. The gift fails and there is an intestacy.”
Mr Capon told the judge that Mr Jefferson, in his representative capacity as BNP Treasurer, could in theory face prosecution under the 2000 Act if the party was found to have accepted the payment illegally.
Denying that the BNP are fighting the case because they are badly in need of funds, he told the judge: “The BNP has received sizable legacies as its support base tends to be amongst older people. It is not desperate for money.”
Mr Harrington asserted that the money ought to be released to the trustees by the executor of the will because, “at this stage no-one knows whether or not he was a permitted donor”. He promised that, were the cash released, “a large pool of voluntary BNP labour” would be “sitting in the British Library going through every electoral roll in the country” to find out if Mr Robson was registered to vote in any UK constituency in the five years before he died. Judge Sheldon said: “The deed of variation itself would suggest that the BNP were not satisfied that Mr Robson was a permissible donor.If the BNP had investigated whether or not Mr Robson was a permitted donor there would be no need for this hearing.” The judge reserved his decision on the dispute until a later date.