Wednesday, 8 February 2012


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Political leaders still at odds over EDL presence
Two political leaders are continuing to clash over the decision to allow the English Defence League to march in Leicester.
Former council leader Councillor Ross Willmott has repeated his criticisms of city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby's handling of the group's protest on Saturday – even though police said it had passed without significant disorder.
Councillor Willmott said the EDL should have been restricted to holding a "static" protest outside the city centre.
Sir Peter and senior police allocated a march route to the EDL and a separate route for its opponents, led by Unite Against Fascism.
As a result, there was no repeat of the serious disorder which spread across the city centre when the EDL staged a demonstration in October 2010.
However, the city centre was much quieter than usual, while several shops and Leicester Market shut for the day.
Coun Willmott said: "It was absolutely the wrong decision to allow the EDL to march in the city centre.
"If they had been confined to St Margaret's Pastures there would have been no disruption at all."
Speaking to the Leicester Mercury on Saturday, Sir Peter Soulsby defended his handling of the protests.
He said: "Allowing the march to go ahead was clearly the right call."When the EDL came to Leicester in 2010, the city centre was effectively shut down as a result.
"This time around there has been far less disruption and the entire march has been kept under tight control by the police.
"Of course, having the EDL march through our city wasn't desirable, and, of course, we didn't want it.
"But my biggest concern was making sure the people of the city faced the least disruption possible, and were kept safe."
Coun Willmott was also critical of police who escorted anti-EDL protesters away from the Clock Tower after several verbal warnings.Police had earlier warned that protesters would be legally required to stick to the two allocated routes to prevent clashes.
Officers, including some on horseback, escorted the group to the official UAF protest starting point, outside the city council's New Walk Centre in King Street.
Coun Willmott said: "We were not a threat to public order, we were simply peaceful local people who wanted to show the EDL they were not welcome."
A Leicestershire police spokeswoman said: "To ensure everything ran smoothly, the chief constable imposed conditions under section 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act, which included designated assembly points for those wishing to take part on the day.
"Those conditions applied to everyone wanting to protest and were circulated widely. Policing two protests by opposing groups was always going to be challenging.
"However, the force has been inundated by messages of thanks and support from the community."

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