The British National Party is in legal hot water after failing in a High Court bid to inherit £389,000 left to it by a Northumberland-born expat.
When Ashington-born Joseph Robson died in Alicante, Spain, at the age of 81 in March 2010, he bequeathed his entire estate outside Spain - worth £389,000 - to the BNP, leaving his two sons, Jeremy and Simon, with just £135 between them.
However, a judge has now ruled that Mr Robson’s bequest fell foul of the ban on foreign donations to political parties - and that the BNP broke the law by “receiving” and “accepting” the gift in breach of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Judge Richard Sheldon QC effectively tore up Mr Robson’s will, declared that he died intestate and awarded his fortune to the sons he tried to disinherit.
There was no evidence that Mr Robson had been registered to vote in the UK at any time in the five years before his death - and he was therefore not a “permissible donor” to the far-right BNP or any other registered UK political party, the judge ruled.
Mr Robson had not lived in Britain “at any period after 1992” and exhaustive searches of the electoral rolls had failed to turn up his name.
The possibility that he was registered to vote in England in the five years before he died was “at best, highly unlikely,” the judge said.
BNP chairman Nick Griffin, along with the party’s Treasurer, Clive Jefferson, and leading party member, Adam Walker, a former teacher from County Durham, had taken steps to vary the terms of Mr Robson’s will so that the bequest would be paid into a trust, rather than directly to the party.
But Judge Sheldon said that, by doing that, Mr Robson’s gift had been inadvertantly “accepted” and “received” by the BNP in breach of the prohibition contained within the 2000 Act - which includes “penal provisions”.
Although Mr Robson’s cash had been distributed to no-one, pending the outcome of the case, the judge reached the “inescapable conclusion” that the BNP “had accepted the gift” before attempting to “pass it over” to trustees.
Mr Robson was born in Ashington, Northumberland, in 1928, and lived in Lutterworth, Leicestershire, after divorcing from Jeremy and Simon’s mother in the 1970s.
He moved to Alicante on his retirement in 1992.
He made a will in 1996, leaving the whole of his estate - mostly made up his holdings in an offshore investment fund - to the BNP, apart from the contents of a Spanish bank account, just £135, which he bequeathed to Jeremy.
Patrick Harrington, a close assistant to Nick Griffin although not himself a BNP member, had argued in court that it would be “utterly unjust” for the party to be stripped of Mr Robson’s bequest.
“One son was given nothing and the other was given 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,” he said.
“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,” he added.
Denying that the BNP were fighting the case because they were 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 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 had in fact been registered to vote in any UK constituency in the five years before he died.
However, the judge ruled that, under the 2000 Act - which was introduced by the last Labour government to curb “foreign donations” to British registered political parties - Mr Robson could not lawfully have made the gift, whether in his will or during his lifetime, and that the BNP was not entitled to accept and receive it.
Neither of Mr Robson’s sons attended the court hearing, and their barrister said he was unable to comment on why their father had decided to effectively write them out of his will.