POLITICAL history was made in Kirklees at 11.11pm last night.

That was the moment when a 39-year-old father-of-two was declared the winner of a by-election in Heckmondwike.

And it marked the moment when the British National Party picked up its first seat in the 29-year history of Kirklees Council.

The election of David Exley as the third BNP councillor in West Yorkshire, following two successes in Calderdale, was by a majority of 114 votes over the Lib Dem candidate.

The man who prompted the by-election, former Labour councillor Tim Crowther, who chose to stand as an Independent, was third.

It was a moment of history beneath the ornate chandeliers and Victorian splendour of Batley Town Hall, which has seen many election night surprises in its long history.

But it was a victory greeted with bizarre scenes as deputy returning officer Susan Hutson made the announcement.

The new Clr Exley, hands clasped behind his back, smiled only briefly, while his agent, Nick Cass, the BNP's regional organiser, punched him on the arm and beamed in delight.

There was applause from only four people in the crowded hall. Others stood in silence as the result was announced and confirmed.

But it was a result which prompted ugly scenes outside as Clr Exley and his supporters were bundled away into the night in a white Land Rover, with dozens of police officers holding back a crowd of baying anti-racism supporters.

It was also a result which had looked on the cards long before the first of the ballot boxes were delivered to the town hall in the cobbled market place shortly after 9pm.

Political pundits from all the parties, who had monitored the voting throughout the day, had seen a big increase in turnout, particularly on the sprawling Dale Lane council estate.

They knew it signified support for the BNP, who had signalled their intentions with a string of second places in last May's council elections.

In the end the turnout was 43.8% - far higher than the average of 30% or so - and it gave the BNP its majority.

The anti-racist demonstrators began gathering in the market place at dusk. They were corralled into a small bunch by the 50 police officers who surrounded the area, but kept up a constant dialogue of chants and songs against racism and the BNP.

The arrival shortly before 9.30pm of the soon-to-be Clr Exley and his four supporters prompted a surge forward and many more chants.

Two BNP supporters who turned up minutes later were ushered away by police as the mood turned uglier.

Inside the hall, the 12 tellers worked steadily away at Formica-topped tables as all the Kirklees Council political heavyweights circled the room, making notes as the ballot boxes were tipped out.

A table ran down the centre of the hall, with placards bearing each candidate's name at the top. By 10.40pm, council officials had started to place bundles of 50 ballot papers alongside each candidates' name and the gathered throng of Press, TV crews and radio journalists had an indication of the count's progress.

Lib Dem candidate Tabascum Aslam smiled as the pile of papers below his name stretched into the lead.

But the BNP votes kept piling up - and by the time counting stopped two minutes after 11pm, it was clear from the lines of ballot papers that political history was about to be made.


* The party was founded in 1982 by John Tyndall, co-founder of the National Front

* The BNP now has more than 100 branches across the UK

* The first success came at Millwall, in south London, when the party won a council seat in 1993

* Nick Griffin became party chairman in 1999

* The BNP now has 17 councillors - including ones in Oldham, Burnley and Calderdale

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