Report back from counter-EDL demonstration in Leicester
Article published: Wednesday, October 13th 2010
Last Saturday 9 October, the English Defence League marched in Leicester, prompting the largest police mobilisation in 25 years. Violent clashes broke out with the police and the local community as a normally cohesive, multi-ethnic city was intimidated well into the night. Manchester, a city proud of its’ anti-fascist heritage, was very much involved in the conflict that overtook Leicester that day. Tom Barlow from Manchester Anti-Fascist Alliance reports back.
The anti-fascist response to the planned demonstration in Leicester last Saturday was mostly co-ordinated by two groups: Hope Not Hate – closely associated with the Labour party and the city’s Labour Council – and Unite Against Fascism – a group connected to the Socialist Workers Party.
Hope Not Hate organised a peace vigil on the Friday night and community event on the Sunday – though they did not call a counter-demo on the Saturday.
Jackie Lewis, chairman of Leicester Unite Against Fascism, criticised Leicester City Council and the police for urging people to stay away on the day the EDL were marching.
She said: “We welcome the council’s peace vigil and all the other events but they have tried to stop people who wanted to make it clear to the EDL they are not welcome. I am pleased it did not work. [On our side] we had one bus and one mini-bus come in from outside the city but everybody else was local.”
Police make an arrest on an EDL member
Though the anti-fascist response was overwhelmingly local, the EDL were not. Coaches from Skipton, Burnley and Ribble valley could be spotted from the over 1000 strong English Defence league. UAF supporters from Bradford even spotted a Finglands bus (a Manchester firm) full of drunken EDL supporters.
The UAF response drew around 700, according to police sources, mostly for a reggae concert and speeches. I witnessed this rally get briefly pelted by the EDL from the other side of the barricades that separated the two. After around 3pm the UAF had mostly dispersed and the city remained largely deserted due to police warnings and those of faith community leaders to ‘stay away’ from the counter-demonstrations in the week leading up to the Saturday.
Sadly some of the fears prompting the warnings became true. From the moment that the EDL were escorted off the coaches, they began pelting opposing protesters and police with bottles, coins and smoke bombs. After several scuffles with the 2000-strong police force many of the EDL entourage managed to break out of the closed-off city centre and separated into around three groups of 100 each.
Ed Stockwell, former resident of Leicester, now of Manchester said: “The fact that we are allowing this group to divide working people in this country is a massive shame. We’ve got a serious fight on our hands to protect our education and welfare. People should be working together, not intimidating other working people.”
Later in the afternoon, one EDL group charged at a group of mostly black and Asian local youngsters, dispersing them with ease before trying to charge into Highfields – regarded as the city’s most diverse and yet impoverished estate. The second and third EDL groups tried a similar tactic in different directions, and whilst they managed to cause some building damage – including to a nearby Primark – they were rounded up by the Police before they could reach their intended targets: the mosques. The first group were were finally apprehended and all three groups were then escorted onto coaches, though not without further conflict with the police.
One of the EDL charges
The police sustained several injuries and one officer had their leg broken. 17 arrests were made in total, all EDL, with charges ranging from assaulting a police officer and ABH to disorderly conduct.
The violence went on through the evening and it was feared that it might affect the Leicester marathon although this eventually ran smoothly.
Cheap drinking holes that had been designated by the police for members of the EDL became conflict zones and the city was awake to sound of riot van sirens well into the night as scuffles and fights broke out across the city.
An elderly bystander, who saw a scuffle break out in Granby Street towards the end of the day, said: “This is so sad. Why is this happening in our day and age and in Leicester, of all places?”
A Manchester-based anti-fascist organiser speaking to MULE gave his analysis of how the day’s events will bear on future mobilisations.
“Two lessons emerged from Leicester for us. Firstly, we need to be organising more consistently for counter-demonstrations – bearing in mind the next EDL demonstration is planned for Preston.
“And secondly, we should be encouraging local companies such as Finglands to be more aware of the fact that they may be inadvertently helping fascist groups like the EDL”.