The English Defence League received a hostile reception in Norwich today when they marched on City Hall in protest against the council’s decision to ban the distribution of anti-Islamic leaflets.
Meanwhile, We Are Norwich conducted a counter-demonstration. Norfolk Police have described the policing operation as “successful”, and stated the day passed “without major incident”.
There was a high-profile police presence throughout the city centre, with over 400 officers from 11 constabularies supervising the marches, including a mounted unit.
The protests remained mostly peaceful, despite minor scuffles between EDL members and anti-fascist activists near Castle Meadow.
A 44-year-old man from Telford was arrested on suspicion of assault, whilst another man sustained minor injuries during the incident. Elsewhere, a further two men were arrested for public order offences, and another man for possession of an offensive weapon.
The timings of the marches were staggered by organisers to prevent confrontation between the opposing groups.
We Are Norwich gathered at 11:00 in Chapelfield Gardens before departing for City Hall at 12:30 and eventually dispersing after speeches at 13:00. Meanwhile the EDL rallied at Castle Gardens at 12:45 before marching at 13:00. A “sterile zone” separated protesters from the war memorial and entrance to City Hall. Bus services were delayed by the protests.
Concrete spoke to superintendent Paul Sanford, who oversaw the police operation. He described the challenges of monitoring both protests whilst maintaining “minimal disruption and minimal disorder.”
He praised the work of the police, saying: “We’ve worked really hard this afternoon, the officers have done a cracking job. We had a few little pockets of disorder, but that didn’t necessarily surprise us, we tried to deal with them as swiftly as possible.”
A counter demonstration by We Are Norwich opposed the presence of the EDL, and represented an alliance of political, faith and community groups celebrating the cultural and ethnic diversity of the city.
There was a high-spirited atmosphere as nearly 2,000 people gathered in Chapelfield Gardens before the march. Speakers from unions and political groups addressed the crowd, including Norwich South Labour candidate Clive Lewis and Union of UEA Students academic officer Josh Bowker. Music played whilst We Are Norwich demonstrators displayed a colourful array of placards and banners.
Nick O’Brien, secretary of We Are Norwich, said: “We’re delighted with how it’s gone. We wanted to make sure we outnumbered the EDL and send a really clear message that they aren’t welcome.”
We Are Norwich marched peacefully towards City Hall where speakers addressed the crowd and emphasised that Norwich embraced racial and religious tolerance, whilst collectively opposing the EDL presence.
The later march by the far-right English Defence League was their first major demonstration in Norwich, and was a reaction to Norwich City Council’s decision to prohibit distribution of “hate-motivated” anti-Islamic leaflets by Pastor Alan Clifford of the Norwich Reformed Church bookstall.
Norwich City Council’s decision was prompted by complaints from members of the public, but representatives of the EDL claimed the council had censured freedom of speech; Mr Clifford didn’t condone their protest. Past EDL protests have a reputation for aggressive racism and violence.
An EDL spokesman Geoff Mitchell told the BBC: “I think everybody was pretty well behaved. I thought it was so important that we had to talk about the reason why we’re here: Christianity is under attack. What’s happened to the pastor is a total disgrace and I think he should get his stall back.”
Approximately 200 EDL demonstrators had gathered near Castle Meadow under heavy police escort. Their arrival was marked by raucous and defiant chanting; the variety of EDL banners indicated that some demonstrators had travelled to Norwich from across the country.
The police escort contained demonstrators until We Are Norwich protest had dispersed from City Hall; it was during this period that a minor clash occurred between EDL members and anti-fascist protestors.
Meanwhile a tense atmosphere prevailed in the market square as mounted police cleared a route in preparation for the EDL’s arrival.
As the demonstrators entered the square they were greeted by a hostile and unwelcoming reception from the gathered crowd, as heckles of “Nazi scum” and “fascists” arose from onlookers. On reaching City Hall, the protest was contained by police before EDL leaders spoke.
The demonstrations were concluded peacefully, and throughout the evening the police maintained a significant presence in the city after protesters were dispersed.
- The demonstrations as they happened – tweets and photos.
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