Monday, 6 February 2012


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Law and order wins the day
Hundreds of people with very different political viewpoints took to the streets of Leicester city centre during Saturday's rival marches.Both the English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism claimed success for their protests.
The police presence in the city centre was clear hours before the demonstrations began and grew steadily throughout the morning.The city was clearly quieter than a usual Saturday, with some shops closed for the entire day and others stopping trading for the duration of the protests.
Despite a police warning for groups to stick to their agreed march routes, Unite Against Fascism encouraged its supporters to gather at the Clock Tower at 11am and to remain there until the EDL passed by.
A group of at least 50 who congregated at the Clock Tower were then warned by police to move on or face arrest.
They included former city council leader Ross Willmott, who told officers he had a legal right to be at the scene of the EDL protest.Councillor Willmott had earlier criticised city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and police for allowing the EDL to march through the city centre and for allocating march routes which kept the groups apart.
Coun Willmott said: "The police have a difficult job to do, but we are peaceful people who want to hold a vigil and demonstrate against the EDL."
The protesters were eventually shepherded along Gallowtree Gate to the New Walk Centre, the gathering point for their march.
Meanwhile, the EDL demonstrators had begun to meet at their starting point at St Margaret's Pastures, off St Margaret's Way.
Many supporters covered their faces to hide their identity from police spotters.
At about 12.45pm, surrounded by police officers and barely visible at street level other than their banners, the EDL started along their route.
As they passed St Margaret's Church, Canon Barry Naylor stood at the door holding a large crucifix and saying quiet prayers.
Alan Keen, 52, from Loughborough was walking past at the time and said: "It was very powerful. Quiet prayers were such a contrast to the bustle of the march."
The march passed along Burleys Way, into Abbey Street and then Belgrave Gate.
Raj Limbachiya, 43, who runs Belgrave News in Belgrave Gate, said: "I had to close the shop for two hours.
"Saturday is a very busy day so I've lost quite a lot of money."Other shops had to do the same thing. This isn't the sort of thing Leicester needs.
"However, the police have dealt with it well. This street was right in the middle of it all, yet there hasn't been any damage to shops."
John and Jane Carter, both 42, who live in the city centre, said the march was pretty scary for their two young sons.
John added: "We were never in any real danger. There were two lines of police on both sides of the protest, so you'd have to be like Houdini to get out of that and cause trouble."
Later, when the EDL returned to St Margaret's Pastures, its leader Tommy Robinson addressed the crowd, claiming that the group had brought 2,000 people to the city.
However, the official police estimate was 700.
The EDL's purpose in targeting Leicester was the criminal justice system's treatment of four Somali women who were given suspended sentences after an attack on a white woman in the city.
The EDL was angry the women who assaulted 22-year-old Rhea Page were not charged with racially aggravated assault, but the Crown Prosecution Service said it had no grounds to treat the case as racist because the victim had said only one of the women – who could not be identified – had made a racist comment.
Mr Robinson said the police had treated EDL protesters "like animals" when they last protested in Leicester in 2010 but said they had handled the latest demonstration well.
He said: "We have been allowed to march, we have been allowed to protest and we have been given this area. The rule of law has to implemented equally across all communities."
Unite Against Fascism and other opponents of the EDL set off from the Leicester City Council's New Walk Centre at 12.45pm.
Its supporters chanted and carried banners reading "Smash the EDL" and "No to Racism".
Lines of police officers made sure they did not deviate from their agreed route as they made their way up Pocklingtons Walk, along Horsefair Street and Halford Street before heading back to their starting point via Belvoir Street. UAF supporters said they were angry the EDL had been allowed to protest.
Andy Wynne, 57, from Glenfield Road, Leicester, said: "It's very upsetting the EDL have been allowed to march."
Sonja Grossner, 69, from Loughborough, said: "My parents had to flee Nazi Germany after trying to stand up for what they believed in, so I'm happy to be here. But I'm depressed the EDL were allowed to march."
Bystander Rowan Bergman, 29, from Oadby, said: "I'm glad there's this counter-protest. I can't get my head around how people can support the EDL."
Reporters: Ciaran Fagan, Tom Mack, David Maclean, Dan Martin, Peter Warzynski. Photographers: Chris Gordon, Jason Senior, Matt Short

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