October 12, 2009
Posted by Antifascist
Piccadilly Gardens was locked down by police as English Defence League (EDL) protesters faced off against opposing Unite Against Fascism (UAF) demonstrators for five hours on Saturday afternoon. The M.E.N. has learned that town hall and police chiefs, faced with picking up the bill for looking after the demos, plan to ask the home secretary for a change in the law that would ban protests where violence is expected.
Forty-eight men were arrested, most on suspicion of public order offences, and 13 people injured, including one seriously and three suffering dog bites. At its worst, sticks and railings were thrown and police vans battered while officers clashed with troublemakers as they tried to pull them out of the demo.
EDL members, who claim to oppose 'radical Islam', have been responsible for violent protests elsewhere in the country. They made Nazi salutes and sang patriotic songs. UAF supporters, staging a counter protest, maintained a non-stop anti-fascist chant.
A tense atmosphere prevailed as the two factions were separated by a police line with officers on horseback and in riot gear. Both sides - around 500 EDL and 1,500 UAF - traded insults and there were regular surges against the police line. Pockets of trouble broke out but were quickly stopped by police before EDL supporters were moved away from Piccadilly Gardens and escorted to bus and train stations by officers shortly before 5pm - five hours after the protest began.
The police have been praised for the success of a huge operation understood to have involved 500 officers. But it has left the Greater Manchester Police Authority with a bill of over £200,000, in cluding around £21,000 on an extra 300 officers, the M.E.N. has learnt.
Senior insiders in the city estimate that the protest has cost Manchester as a whole up to £800,000 in planning, staffing and community liaison work which included police officers and council staff going into schools and speaking to the leaders of the region's mosques.
The figure also includes substantial losses to businesses around Piccadilly Gardens after many had to close. Others, including Debenhams and Primark, reported a 'considerable' drop in takings. Debenhams said they also had to bring in extra security to keep staff safe.
Both the ambulance service and police had to bring in relief from outside forces, including officers from Lancashire police to staff the rugby league final at Old Trafford which kicked off at 5.30pm.
Manchester council had unsuccessfully applied to get this weekend's demonstration banned after trouble during a previous demo in Birmingham. Legislation currently provides no scope to halt peaceful gath erings in a public place, although the police can step in where demonstrators are suspected of breaking the law.
Manchester's deputy leader Coun Jim Battle praised an 'outstanding' police operation, but said: "The police marshalled this demonstration extremely well, allowing people to go about their business, but the operation was very expensive in terms of resources.
"While we recognise the right to demonstrate, what we saw with the EDL yesterday was, in effect, a gathering of football hooligans who had to be marshalled in that way in order to keep the peace. We will raise this with the home secretary and ask him to explore whether there are ways he can intervene.
"We paid a high price but fortunately we didn't pay the price paid in Birmingham of violence spilling out on to our streets."
Greater Manchester Police Authority chairman Coun Paul Murphy added: "This was a quite brilliantly executed operation but the law needs to be reassessed. I am left with a bill I didn't budget for and the dilemma of whether, if this group ask to protest again, we have to let them.
"There's a difference between peaceful and violent protest and I think that's where the law has lost its way. It is prepared to support people who have a record of violence against the interests of those go ing about their business.
"It's probably the price we pay for democracy but it's a hell of a price when you look at the bill. I want to be able to refuse a group if there is a fair and reasonable assumption of violence."
Chief Supt Gerry Donnellan, in charge of Saturday's operation for GMP, commended the wider community for taking heed of advice to stay away from the protest.
He said: "The day was a culmination of a lot of hard work and detailed planning by a large number of people. It was a tremendous example of police working in partnership with other agencies and event organisers for a successful outcome.
"I've got a responsibility to try and facilitate a peaceful protest and a lot of time and thought went into doing that. There was potential for it to be come more volatile than it did. It presented us with a big challenge and some big decisions were made and we were able to handle it in a controlled manner.
"I think there were some minor issues with the protesters but they were dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner and we were able to remove troublemakers quickly."
Manchester Evening News
Thanks to NewsHound for the heads-up.