SALISBURY’S Labour candidate has refused to attend a hustings event because the British National Party will be taking part.

Tom Gann said it would be “morally wrong” for him to debate with BNP candidate, Sean Witheridge.

Sharing a platform with the BNP would give the impression that its racist views were “part of the legitimate political spectrum,” he insisted.

He has written a statement for the organisers, Churches Together, to read out at St Francis Church Hall on Sunday, and he will be outside to explain in person as the audience arrives.

The campaign group, Hope Not Hate, will also be handing out leaflets.

“I believe the BNP should be able to hold its own meetings and speak to voters,” Mr Gann said.

“However, there is a difference between this and the BNP being invited to an event by a respected organisation such as Churches Together.

“The basis of democracy is that all citizens are equal. The BNP do not view every British citizen as equal.

“There will be people in the room who the BNP do not believe have a right to be there.”

A BNP spokesman said: “They have realised they can’t defeat us in debate so they want to put pressure on the organisation to withdraw our invitation.

It’s happening all over the south west.”

Other candidates have said they will take part in the event, chaired by the Dean of Salisbury, the Very Rev June Osborne, because it is better to defeat the BNP with reasoned arguments.

Conservative, John Glen, said: “I think people need to hear the Conservative point of view. Exposure of the BNP will reveal its nasty, unpleasant politics.

“I would rather beat them in debate than not give them a platform. Although I am very sympathetic to Tom’s view, I would much rather Tom was there.”

Nick Radford, the Liberal Democrat candidate, agreed, saying: “As much as I despise what the BNP has to say, it is a legally-registered political party. The best way to defeat it is in open argument.”

UKIP’s Frances Howard said: “I am prepared to take part in a controlled debate rather than let this issue fester underground.”

Independent candidate, Arthur Pendragon, will also be attending. He said: “As Voltaire put it, I may not agree with what they say, but I would die for their right to say it.”

And Green candidate, Nick Startin, said: “I respect Tom’s decision, but we have decided that getting our message across is the most important thing.”

The event’s organiser, the Rev David Scrace, said: “I understand Tom’s position but I am disappointed that someone representing a major party doesn’t feel able to be there. It would be a better meeting with him in it.