Anti-fascists complain of policing at Bolton demo

Article published: Friday, April 2nd 2010

Anti-fascist demonstrators are challenging police accounts of the counter-demonstrations against the far-right English Defence League held in Bolton on 20 March.

Protesters have accused police of being heavy-handed.

In a lengthy press statement released shortly after the protest ended the police commander, Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, claimed the police had seen “groups of people, predominantly associated with the UAF, engaging in violent confrontation.”

Shewan also commended the EDL, adding “I would also like to praise the efforts of the EDL stewards who worked with us in the face of some very ugly confrontations.”

Mark Krantz of Unite Against Fascism contested the allegations and strongly criticised the tactics used by the police and their preparation for the protests, accusing them of “a dereliction of our right to protest and a dereliction of their duty to care for protestors.”  He pointed out that only two injuries were suffered by the police on the day – a bite from a mishandled police dog and a fractured finger.

At least three counter demonstrators were injured, with one man suffering a head injury, another an ear injury and a third was treated for collapse.  Two uninvolved bystanders were also taken to hospital. Krantz told MULE that the police had failed to fully co-operate with the UAF prior to the day in preparing a safe zone for elderly and disabled protesters. Last week the UAF published video footage which they claim shows riot police knocking 89-year-old Bomber Command veteran and anti-fascist Bertie Lewis to the ground as they rush past him.

In the days following the protests Deputy Chief Constable Simon Byrne denied that the police had overreacted, stating “had it not been for the thorough planning and sheer bravery of officers on the day – who prevented what was a clear attempt to cause serious disorder – many people could have been very seriously injured.”

74 people were arrested during the day, of which 54 were counter-demonstrators and 17 were EDL. Of those arrested who attended the UAF organised counter-demonstration, the majority have since been released without charge or bail conditions.  Only four protesters have since been charged with public order offences, with three more being cautioned.

None of the three UAF organisers arrested have been charged. Although UAF secretary Weyman Bennett had been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit violent disorder, he was later bailed but not charged, whilst Greater Manchester UAF secretary Rhetta Moran was held for ten hours and her home searched without a warrant.  She was later released without charge, although bail conditions prevent her from attending UAF meetings or gatherings until May 10th and files were illegally downloaded from her personal computer by the police.

Retired lecturer Richard Coates strongly questioned the use of police tactics he witnessed in Bolton, comparing the policing to that of the widely-criticised G20 protests in London last year.  “They seemed to have learned nothing from that report into the G20 protests, or if they had then they set out deliberately to do what the inspectorate told them not to,” Coates told the MULE.

The Tactical Aid Unit formed squads throughout the early part of the day to enter the UAF’s designated zone to make arrests.

Coates described witnessing one TAU officer, numbered 8688, commit an unprovoked attack on one protester who was trying to pick up someone who had fallen to the ground.  He has made a formal complaint to Greater Manchester Police, who were recently second only to Nottinghamshire as the worst in the country.

“They were unnecessarily violent it seemed to me right from the on.  Overwhelmingly – as their injuries show – they were violent, we got hurt,” said Coates.

Demonstrators claim that tensions grew as the morning went on as more anti-EDL protestors reached the square and the police restricted entry.  “Gradually the police presence became heavier and heavier and made it harder to get in,” said Geoff Brown, secretary of Manchester Trades Council.  “The police were hemming us in and keeping people out.”

Video footage purporting to be proof of violence has since been released by the police.  Although the video has no audio attached, at that time (12:45pm) the MULE heard and the Manchester Evening News live feed reported protesters chanting “This is not a riot.

The video shows a chain of protesters with linked arms pushing against police close to the fence around the northern exit of the square where the UAF PA system was situated, at the opposite end of the square and away from the EDL zone. However, it is unclear if the protesters were being pushed against the fence by riot police, or were attempting to force the fence down as the police allege.

The bulk of the EDL arrived some time after this incident and occupied the southern half of the square.  There they were separated from the anti-EDL zone by crash barriers and two lines of policemen, although coins and plastic bottles were repeatedly thrown. At roughly 3 o’clock more groups of counter-demonstrators were allowed into the square from where they had been held in side-streets and one hour later the EDL were marched out by riot police, with the counter-demonstrators later marched out at half-past four.

Richard Goulding

More: News, Policing


  1. From what little media coverage I saw of the demonstration in Bolton. It appeared to me that it was the police who used violence against the UAF protesters. You could see police going in and snatching their banners and actually pulling people out of the crowd for apparently nothing. Whilst the 10 second clip I witnessed on TV showed the EDL attacking the police. But this was not mentioned in the local media I only saw it on Sky.

    Comment by Patrick Sudlow on April 18, 2010 at 10:22 am

The comments are closed.