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(photo credit: AP [file])
The leader of Britain's far-right British National Party was acquitted Friday of stirring up racial hatred in a speech that labeled Islam a "wicked, vicious faith."
British National Party leader Nick Griffin was cleared by a jury at Leeds Crown Court in northern England. Another party member, Mark Collett, also was acquitted.
BNP supporters in the public gallery broke into tears and cheered as the verdict was announced. Dozens more BNP supporters and anti-fascist demonstrators held noisy rival rallies outside the courthouse, as they have throughout the weeklong trial.
Griffin, 46, had denied using words or behavior intended or likely to stir up racial hatred when he gave a speech at a pub in the northern English town of Keighley in January 2004.
Prosecutors based their case on recordings made for an undercover TV documentary showing a speech in which Griffin branded Islam wicked, labeled Britain a "multicultural hellhole" and claimed gangs of Asian Muslims were raping white youngsters.
"This wicked, vicious faith has expanded from a handful of cranky lunatics about 1,300 years ago and it's now sweeping country after country before it, all over the world," he told party activists.
The jury also cleared Collett, 26, of charges relating to speeches secretly recorded by the British Broadcasting Corp. for the same documentary, "The Secret Agent."
In February, jurors cleared Griffin on two similar counts and Collett on four counts.
However, the jury was unable to reach verdicts on two further counts against both men, making a new trial on the outstanding charges necessary.
The anti-immigrant BNP holds several dozen seats on local councils in England, but remains a minor political force and has no seats in Parliament. It has tried to soften its thuggish image under the leadership of Griffin, a Cambridge University-educated lawyer.