Article published: Tuesday, January 26th 2010
Last year far right group the English Defence League (EDL) whipped up anti-Muslim sentiment across Britain by holding a number of high profile demonstrations against what they see as the creeping Islamification of British society. Last weekend saw their first march of 2010. MULE sent reporter Tim Hunt to his native Stoke-on-Trent to witness events.
For anyone still under the illusion that the EDL is anything but a group of racist hooligans, ten minutes in Hanley town centre last Saturday afternoon would have been enough to dispel the myth. Less than two hours after the start of the demonstration, before their speakers had even finished rallying the crowd, a mob of over 2,500 EDL supporters surged towards the police lines. Missiles rained down on police and passers by as EDL supporters attempted to reach the 200 or so anti-fascist, counter-demonstrators situated just yards down the road.
At least three police officers were injured during the skirmish and one journalist was taken to hospital after being hit by a brick. I spoke to one EDL member who had been injured by fellow demonstrators after he tried to stop the surge. He told me that they “never expect trouble,” continuing, “this wasn’t what we wanted, we aren’t really a racist organisation.” His words rang hollow against such contradictory scenes.
They could not disguise the fact that, for the weeks building up to the demonstration, websites had been awash with plans for football hooligans from Stoke to link up with others from around the country and cause mayhem. On the day, gangs of between five and fifteen men, many with scarves covering their faces, roamed the streets of Hanley. Their aim was to intimidate members of the public, chanting their hate-filled songs of “Allah, Allah, who the fuck is Allah?”
A Mosque in the Normacot area of the city suffered a graffiti attack on the morning of the march, which set the tone for the rest of the day. Midlands Trade Unions Council regional secretary Cheryl Pidgeon said, “Their claim to be protesting against radical Islam has been shown to be a fraud. As their behaviour in other cities has shown, they quickly descend into exposing their hate for all Muslims.”
Over 500 police officers from five different forces were on hand to deal with the demonstrators and police helicopters circled above. They seemed powerless, however, to prevent the proceedings from escalating out of control. Dave Saxon, protester with the Unite Against Fascism counter-demonstration, questioned the police tactics. “I’m not sure that giving them a pub as their meeting point and holding them there for two hours is the best idea,” he said.
Indeed, several locations around the Regenal Mitchel Weatherspoons pub became flashpoints throughout the afternoon. Police van windows were smashed and six police officers were injured as EDL demonstrators fought with police for over two hours. In total, only seventeen arrests were made and just seven were charged with racially or religiously aggravated disorder offences. Police have said they will study CCTV footage from the day and act accordingly.
As night fell over Stoke, parts of Hanley town centre bore marks of the days events and were littered with debris. The majority of the rubbish had cleared away, however, when they boarded their coaches and returned home.
Click here to see footage from the day.
Image by Robert Trigg of www.staffs.ac.uk/staffslive
MULE covered the EDL before and after their demonstration in Manchester back in October. Afterwards Ruth Michaelson discussed the EDL’s relationship with mainstream society while Ragnor Ironpants looked at their links with the BNP (part 1 and part2).
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