BNP leader charged with assault

May 28, 2004

The leader of the British National Party's youth wing, Salford University student Tony Wentworth, has been charged with common assault after an alleged attack on a student union leader in March.

Mr Wentworth, 19, allegedly assaulted Chris Tavner, who was the equal opportunities officer for the Salford students' union at the time, outside the university's Frederick Road campus during student union election hustings on March 23.

Mr Tavner was campaigning against Mr Wentworth's attempt to become student union communications officer, which would have made him editor of the student newspaper. In the event, Mr Wentworth lost the election with 16 out of a total of 696 votes.

Mr Wentworth has also been charged with a public order offence in relation to a separate incident the day after the alleged assault on Mr Tavner.

Greater Manchester Police said in a statement: "Following two incidents in March this year, 19-year-old Tony Wentworth of the Salford area has been charged with common assault and a Section 4 public order offence.

"Mr Wentworth was charged with common assault following (a commotion with) a 25-year-old man outside Salford University campus on Frederick Road on Tuesday March 23 2004.

"He has also been charged with a Section 4 public order offence following an incident on The Crescent in Salford on Wednesday March 24 2004 in which a 21-year-old man was involved." The police said they were still trying to identify another man who was alleged to have been involved in the second incident.

Mr Tavner, who studies in the same school as Mr Wentworth, urged the university to suspend Mr Wentworth over the allegations. The university's refusal to do so has attracted criticism from staff and students.

Salford explained to Mr Tavner in a letter that "suspension is a sanction that is used rarely in extreme circumstances" and that under its procedures it must allow the police time to reach a conclusion before taking any action.

The case highlights growing concerns about how universities should handle what may be racially charged situations on campus.

Under the Race Relations Amendment Act, institutions are required to "promote equal opportunity and promote good relations between people of different racial groups".

Lecturers' union Natfhe said this meant that universities were obliged to clamp down on all activity by organisations such as the BNP on campus.

But universities are keen to allow free speech and are obliged to teach and accommodate students regardless of their political views. They have procedures on harassment and violence to deal with specific incidents.

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