Cumbernauld’s shame; town’s link with far-right extremist group

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 16:14 on 15 May 2014.
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CUMBERNAULD earned fame and fortune in the 1960s by being architecturally imaginative. Then, in the late 1990s and early years after the millennium, the town earned a reputation as a hovel, with the ‘crappiest’ building in the United Kingdom – Cumbernauld town centre. Nowadays, however, various community groups are doing their best to improve the image of Cumbernauld.

Cumbernauld Environmental Society are working to establish a Peace and Memorial Garden to commemorate those who lost their lives in the First World War; Friends of Cumbernauld House Park are working to establish various projects in Cumbernauld House Park – the largest park in North Lanarkshire; and, Cumbernauld Community Forum are continuing to organise the revitalised town Gala Day, which was scrapped after the town’s Development Corporation wound up. 

The new owners of Cumbernauld town centre are also working on an alleged multi-million pound refurbishment of the ageing complex; and, North Lanarkshire Council are looking to build two new high schools in Cumbernauld, with plans to go before planning soon to build a ‘Community Enterprise Hub’, in Seafar. 

Today though, Cumbernauld is being shamed by one of its former residents; a resident who  has helped to set up and run a new far-right political organisation which “invaded” Cumbernauld Mosque last Sunday (11th May).

Britain First

Britain First are a far-right BNP splinter party who define themselves as a “patriotic political party and street defence organisation that opposes and fights the many injustices that are routinely inflicted on the British people.” The party are contesting next Thursday’s European Parliament elections, with six candidates standing for the six available ‘Scotland’ constituency seats. 

Former Cumbernauld resident James Dowson is first on the party’s list, followed by John Arthur Randall, Jayda Fransen, Geoffrey Clynch, Margaret Clynch, and Jane Shepherd. The party opposes Scottish independence, believes capital punishment should be restored; and, calls for a referendum on whether the UK remains a member of the European Union. The group also call for an end to what they see as ‘Anti-Christian discrimination’ and opposes what they describe as being the ‘Islamification’ of Britain.

Jim Dawson in the group's PPB. Pic: copyright of Britain First.

The group has become noticed in the past few weeks as the group began to use the anniversary of Lee Rigby’s murder as a reason for back the party’s candidates. Earlier this month the Electoral Commission was forced to apologise after permission was given to have the slogan “Remember Lee Rigby” adjoin the ‘Britain First’ candidate list and logo on Welsh ballot papers.

Lee Rigby slogan “offensive”

Apologising to the family of Drummer Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the Electoral Commission’s chairwoman, Jenny Watson, said: “The Electoral Commission is deeply sorry for this mistake and the pain that it has caused Fusilier Rigby's family. The commission welcomes the report of the independent investigation and has accepted all the recommendations that have been made. These will now be implemented as quickly as possible to ensure a similar mistake is never repeated."

The reaction of the election watchdog came after an independent investigation was launched to look into the sign-off of the slogan; an investigation which concluded in its report that the slogan had resulted in, “deep offence and distress.” Nevertheless, the slogan will appear on voting slits in Wales next Thursday (May 22nd) when voters across the United Kingdom choose who to send to the European Parliament as MEPs for the next five years. 

Lee's mother, Lyn, reacted to the slogan and the Electoral Commission’s apology by saying that the view of Britain First did not represent the views of the family.

She said: "Their [Britain First's] views are not what Lee believed in and they have no support from the family."

Following the slogan scandal - in the first of a serious of major public campaign events – the group “invaded” Mosques in Bradford and across central Scotland. 

Mosques “invaded”

Police in Bradford and Scotland have both confirmed that they will launch investigations after activists from the ‘Britain First’ party invaded Mosques in Bradford, Cumbernauld and Glasgow, last Sunday (11th May).

In what the group called a ‘Christian crusade’, activists handed out leaflets and army issue Bibles to Muslim worshippers at ten Bradford Mosques and two across the central belt of Scotland.

A party spokesperson confirmed that, “activists of the Britain First Defence Force, along with party leader Paul Golding, took our Christian crusade to Scotland for the first time.” 

“Our activists visited mosques in Cumbernauld and Glasgow,” the spokesperson added.

“Starting off the day in Stirling, the gateway to the Highlands, the team headed to a giant new mega mosque in the town of Cumbernauld.

“After meeting with our new local activists, the team confronted the imam of Cumbernauld mega mosque and around twenty worshippers and handed them Muslim grooming leaflets and British Army Bibles.

“Our units then headed for Glasgow Central Mosque in the infamous Gorbals area. Once again our activists headed past dozens of worshippers and through the front door.

“Once inside, our activists handed out the leaflets and Bibles and told them to do something to avoid any grooming gang scandals.

“After an activist meeting with our new Glasgow organiser and footsoldiers, the activists ended our first foray into Alba.”

The party spokesperson claimed that the party would be “very busy” throughout the summer months as the group aims to continuing campaigning.

“Our activist units will be very busy throughout the summer with our Christian crusade in Scotland and also campaigning to keep Scotland,” the spokesperson said.

Police Scotland has confirmed that they are investigating complaints made by worshippers at both Glasgow Central mosque and Cumbernauld mosque, after the incidents, last Sunday.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Paul Golding, leader of Britain First, denied claims that his group tried to scare worshippers. 

"We weren't aggressive and we didn't intimidate anyone," he said.

"To suggest it's intimidatory to give out Bibles in a Christian country is nonsense. We live in a free country where you're allowed to try to recruit other people to your religion – Muslims do it all the time. If there's anything criminal about that I'd like to hear about it. We videoed it all so you can see for yourself. We just went into the mosques, gave out a few Bibles and leaflets, talked to some elders and left."

Cumbernauld Mosque and Mr Din. Pic: courtesy of Bill Henry.

Azhar Din, secretary trustee at Cumbernauld mosque has also spoken his experience after the group invaded the town mosque, in Craighalbert Way, in Dullatur. 

Mr Din said: "The initial approach of the group felt very intimidating, hostile and threatening, and they asked to speak to the imam in a raised voice.”

"The event occurred out of the blue and shocked some of the worshippers present,” he added. 

"However, when the imam appeared they spoke calmly, and the situation became calmer and people were less concerned. The leader presented the imam with some leaflets on grooming' and a Bible and spoke very calmly, before leaving shortly after."

Cumbernauld connection

Apart from storming the some £1.8million Cumbernauld mosque, Britain First has another connection to Cumbernauld – one of its senior members hails from the town. 

Jim Dowson is standing for Britain First in the upcoming European Parliament elections, but his political career pre-dates the existence of Britain First.

According to the Electoral Commission register, Britain First registered as a political party on January 10th 2014 with Mr Paul Golding as its leader and Mr Andrew McBride as treasurer, after the party was originally founded back in 2011.

Former Calvinist Minister Jim Dowson decided to form ‘Britain First’; and, quickly the campaign aimed to establish itself as “just, righteous and true”, aiming to “fight to defend our people’s interests with integrity, vigour and professional decency.” 

However, the back story to the founding of Britain First is more interesting. 

‘The man who owned the BNP’

49-year-old Jim Dowson became known as the man who ‘owned the BNP’, after the party’s leadership found his methods of get-rich-quick schemes to be just what they needed; Dowson was appointed as the BNP’s chief fundraiser before leading the party’s bid for Scottish seats at the 2009 European Parliament elections. 

Before the 2009 European Parliament elections, Dowson was ‘outed’ as what the Daily Record called “the BNP’s Mr Bigot”. The newspaper confirmed how Dowson was a former Orangeman who was ousted from the Order. 

The paper then detailed how Dowson had featured on a tape of Abronhill flute band music marching in support of murderer Michael Stone, who murdered three Catholics at a funeral, in 1988.

Dowson’s criminal record was also revealed by the paper. The Daily Record confirmed how Dowson had a list of criminal convictions, including breach of the peace in 1986, possession of a weapon and breach of the peace in 1991 and criminal damage in 1992.

It was established that Dowson formed ‘Precise Life Scotland’ - a hard line pro-life organisation – followed by UK LifeLeague, in 1999 following discussions with Ireland's ‘Youth Defence’, who had famously stormed buildings in Dublin in a bid to campaign against a woman's right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

His pro-life groups came to earn notoriety after they posted the addresses of MSPs who supported the right of choice for women, and earned further criticisms after handing out graphic abortion images to children as young as 11. 

Precise Life Scotland

Launching Precise Life Scotland in 1999, Dowson said wars weren't won by mailing lists or on table tops, telling BBC News that he was prepared to break the law in an effort to stop what he called the "trade in human misery".

Talking to BBC News Scotland ahead of the group’s launch, Mr Dowson said: "I have no problem with the word militant. For too many years now we have sat around in church groups and coffee mornings, selling crochet cushions and tut tut tutting when the question of abortion comes up.

"I am afraid those days are gone,” he added. "We will be picketing and targeting the main surgeries involved in this - not just their place of work.”

Only one month after its formation, the pro-life organisation picked up more publicity after activists were planning to hand out pictures of aborted foetuses to promote their crusade; Dowson confirmed then that, “I utterly condemn the use of violence," adding that: "We believe this will be a watershed in Scottish pro-life activities.”

Then, one month later, in December 1999, Dowson announced he had been made to quit his £23,000 a year job as a sales manager for a catering firm as a result of his views. 

Commenting at the time, he said his group were “about saving the 12,000 babies a year that are murdered in Scotland,” but he recognised he had a “very murky past”. 

Griffin’s right-hand man

After being appointed the BNP’s chief fundraiser, Dowson was put in charge of the party’s 2009 European Parliament election bid. 

There was such high trust and respect between Dowson and the BNP’s leader, Nick Griffin, that Griffin moved the Nationalist party to Belfast, under Dowson’s control. 

Jim Dawson was close to Nick Griffin. Pic: Hope not Fear.

However, when the party failed to make any significant inroads, in 2009, fractions of the BNP were starting to conspire against Nick Griffin, the party’s leader. And, in October 2010, Dowson parted company with the BNP.

It was a very public fall-out between Dowson and Griffin; and, at the point of leaving, Dowson was accused of groping a female party colleague.

"Sweaty hands"

Jim Dowson denied all claims that he sexually assaulted Bedfordshire BNP candidate, Shelly Rose, after inviting her to a hotel room. 

At the time, Shelley Rose, a former model, took to Youtube to make her claims public. 

In her dramatic video, the former lads’ mag model claimed she awoke to find Dowson’s hands “crawling up her leg”.

She said: "I decided it was safer to stay with him, as it was too late to get home, because he was a religious and family man and didn't think there would be a problem.

"We both had on our nightclothes. I felt these clammy, sweaty hands crawling up my leg.

"He was kissing me. Then he got on top of me and I told him to stop.

"I said: 'Jim, please stop.' Eventually he got off but rather than apologise he started to verbally abuse me and told me I was frigid, had emotional issues and was a wreck."

Dowson hit back at the allegations, and confirmed that he had parted ways with the BNP – he called Shelley "a daft wee lassie”, and said the story had been “invented” as part of a dirty tricks campaign.

"This woman is talking nonsense. Her pictures show she is far from being the Miss Jean Brodie type at all,” he told the Daily Record. 

"There was a dirty tricks campaign in the party and this was all part of it. I ended up in the firing line.

"There is a real power struggle between hardliners and people like Nick Griffin who want to open the party to Asians and other groups.

"It has caused a lot of grief. I knew from the start Shelley could not be trusted and suspected her motives. I still have grave doubts about what she was trying to do.

"She was taking part in a stage show but had to be thrown out of that as there were doubts about her. She was very bitter about that."

Dowson denied suggestions that he had fallen out with senior figures in the BNP. 

He said: "I have not renewed my contract with the party but there has been no acrimonious split. I just want to get away from politics.

"I was in Brussels this week with Nick to discuss arrangements about ending our relationship.

"I was never a member of the party but they have a mandate. One million people voted for them, probably more than voted for Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland or the SNP in Last year, Dowson by police for an employee a photo himself apparent armed with a shotgun. He said it was a toy.

In November 2010, Dowson’s contract was not renewed and his relationship with the BNP ended. Britain First was founded.

“Slunk into Scotland”

After parting ways with the BNP Jim Dowson and Paul Golding, a former BNP councillor and editor of the BNP’s flagship magazine, confirmed that they were to found a new campaign group.

The pair announced that the new group would be set-up to protect “British and Christian morality”; and, soon thereafter a glossy mail drop went out to some 40,000 names that Dowson had allegedly acquired from the BNP.

According to ‘Hope not Fear’, close to a thousand people responded to the group’s launch with either cash or membership. However, it wasn’t until October 2011 when the group was formally launched in Perth.

Jim Dowson was joined by people the Daily Record described as “BNP ratbags” as the new ‘Britain First’ group sought to launch itself in near secrecy.

“The former BNP treasurer pitched up in Perth at a secret Scots summit to launch Britain First, clutching a cardboard box crammed with far-right propaganda,” the Scottish tabloid reported at the time.

Jim Dawson and Paul Golding were announced as the group’s campaign managers; Gary Raikes was confirmed as the leader of Britain First’s Scottish arm, with the launch being attended by some former senior BNP members, such as Richard Payne, who fought the Banff and Buchan Westminster seat for the BNP at the 2011 general election. And, since their launch, the group have regularly been in the news. 

Court action

Since the group’s founding meeting in Perth, three years ago, Britain First has featured in various news articles – including Mr Dawson.

For instance, on February 4th, last year, we reported: 'Far-right Cumbernauld extremist has Qatada home protest plan banned by a court order'

In our story, we reported how. “FORMER British National Party (BNP) official Jim Dowson and his colleagues at Britain First – a group he helped establish, which has several ex-BNP members amongst its ranks, had planned to protest outside the home of radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada, in north London, until a court order banned the protest.”

Our article explained how: “Dowson had been planning to protest outside Qatada’s house until high court judges granted an injunction against the demonstration, on Friday, after Qatada's lawyers sought to prevent the demonstration taking place.

“Qatada was due to be deported to Jordan in order to stand trial for terrorism offences last year, until the move was blocked by senior judges and he was permitted to live at home under strict bail conditions. 

“The planned protest outside Qatada’s home would have been the latest in a long list of previous far-right campaigns headed by Dowson, who was deputy to BNP leader Nick Griffin for three years, after Dowson recently involved himself in the Northern Ireland protests over the decision to limit the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Council chambers.”

Our piece quoted an interview Dowson gave the Sunday Herald, in which he said: "This guy is costing taxpayers a fortune every month and he manages to get an injunction to say we can't protest outside his house, a house that we're paying for.

"We should have every right to express our democratic views and in two weeks’ time we'll be back at court to challenge the injunction.

"It's supposed to be a free country but if you can't protest outside the half-a-million-pound home of someone like this then that's a really big problem.

"This guy is being protected around the clock by armed guards that we're paying for when there are pensioners dying of the cold. He should be put on a plane and deported."

Dowson claimed that the group is "always peaceful" in its practices. 

Then, on Saturday 2nd March 2013, the Herald reported, 'Scottish Union Flag protester Jim Dowson appears in Belfast court'. 

In their piece, the broadsheet described how, “Two of the most high profile Union flag demonstrators have appeared in court in Northern Ireland charged with a series of offences linked to the loyalist protests.”

The newspaper reported that, “Jim Dowson, 48, a former British National Party (BNP) fundraiser originally from Cumbernauld, was granted bail on strict conditions at Belfast Magistrates Court, while Jamie Bryson, 23, was refused bail”, explaining that, “The protests have been continuing since early December when Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days the flag flew over City Hall.

“A number of the earlier demonstrations descended into violence, particularly in east Belfast, with around 140 police officers being injured.”

Where next?

The group has also promised more “action days”, more counter demonstrations and Mosque invasions. However, the party are pleading for support in the upcoming European Parliament elections.

Britain First is fielding six candidates for the six MEP seats available in Scotland as part of the vote on elected members of the European Parliament. 

James Dowson is first on the party’s list, followed by John Arthur Randall, Jayda Fransen, Geoffrey Clynch, Margaret Clynch, and Jane Shepherd.

Polls will open at 7am next Thursday (22nd May) at stations across Scotland. Between 7am and 10pm Scots will be able to vote for any one party, voting based on the party and their list of candidates as opposed to a single candidate.

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