The leader of controversial far-right political party Britain First has avoided jail despite being convicted for the second time of wearing a political uniform.
Paul Golding, 34, had been charged after leading about a dozen activists on a "Christian patrol" through Bury Park, Luton, in January while wearing what prosecutors said was an "intimidating" Britain First-branded fleece.
The "patrol" saw his group – who were also wearing the party's dark green memorabilia – hand out anti-Islam literature while walking down a high street carrying large Christian crosses.
They were accused of trying to provoke residents and business owners in the predominantly Muslim area, with the march ending in a stand-off with angry local residents.
Bedfordshire Police arrested Golding the following month, alleging his Britain First clothing constituted a 'political uniform' – an offence under the Public Order Act 1936, originally passed to curb the activities of Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, or 'Blackshirts'.
Appearing at Luton Magistrates' Court on Friday (29 July), Golding pleaded guilty but avoided what could have been a prison sentence of up to three months. He was instead fined £450.
Senior Crown Prosecutor Michael Gallacher said Bury Park residents had on the day of the march recognised the uniform and found it "quite intimidating", adding: "As a result there was various abuse towards the group, which got quite heated."
Defending, Richard Hawgood described the protest as "pretty benign", pointing out that Golding had cooperated with police when they arrived.
'We will return to Luton'
Despite being convicted, Golding spoke of his relief at being free from the bail conditions which had banned him from returning to Bury Park and Luton town centre since being arrested. He vowed to return there with his activists for further street-level action in the near future.
"I said to Luton Police, 'There's nothing stopping me now coming with 50 of our activists to Luton or to Bury Park,' so now the fun and games will begin," he said in a video posted to his supporters shortly after the court hearing.
This is now the second time the former British National Party (BNP) activist has been convicted of wearing a political uniform after he was fined for wearing a Britain First-branded jacket in January 2015.
Golding has accused the police of using the obscure law to restrict his anti-Islam activism, pointing to the five months during which he was banned from returning to Luton under his recent bail conditions.
Officers have struggled to deal with the fallout of the group's controversial protests and street-level action in Luton over the past year.
Community groups, faith leaders and local politicians said the party's activities – including its so-called Christian patrols and mosque invasions – had cost "hundreds of thousands of pounds" to the local economy and complained they were upsetting residents, a large proportion of whom are Muslim.
Later this month Golding and Britain First's deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, 30, will appear at the High Court to challenge attempts by Bedfordshire Police to impose a longer restriction on the group's activities in Luton and nationwide.
The force has sought an injunction banning the pair from entering Luton town centre and Bury Park, as well as any mosque in England and Wales, for the next three years.
It said the measures were needed "to protect local communities in Luton that have been targeted by the respondents [Golding and Fransen] and subjected to harassment, alarm and distress".
Britain First, a Christian nationalist movement set up by former members of the BNP, has always insisted it holds peaceful demonstrations and has accused the police of orchestrating a campaign to "restrict our freedoms as a registered political party".
What is the Public Order Act 1936?
- Britain First leader Paul Golding was convicted of "wearing uniform with political objectives" using laws passed under the Public Order Act 1936
- The act, passed under King George VI, was originally intended to curb the activities of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, also known as the 'Blackshirts'
- The Act prohibits "any person who in any public place or at any public meeting wears a uniform signifying his association with any political organisation or with the promotion of any political political object"
- A clarification adds that citizens may be permitted to wear uniforms "on any ceremonial, anniversary, or other special occasion" so long as the Secretary of State is satisfied that it will "not be likely to involve risk of public disorder"