Residents are being urged to stay away from Dudley town centre on Easter Sunday, as far right group the English Defence League is set to descend on the town. The extremist [group] claims to be bringing around 3,000 supporters on April 4 to protest against the planned £18million mosque.
The demonstration has been opposed by all four party leaders of Dudley Council. Council leader and Tory councillor, Anne Millward, Labour party leader Cllr David Sparks, Liberal Democrat Cllr David Tyler and UKIP’s Malcolm Davis have put aside political differences to join forces and sign a statement in opposition to the march, which calls on the group to abandon its plans.
A spokesman for the English Defence League (EDL) claim they are coming to Dudley because “laws have been bypassed to promote one section of the community over the concerns of others”. But Cllr Malcolm Davis, who has vehemently led the protest against the mosque, said the EDL will be “most unwelcome”.
He said: “They have sent me an email and it seems to me they think I will support them, but I don’t. I think they are targeting Dudley because they think there is a problem, but there isn’t a problem as far as I’m concerned. I’m still opposed to the mosque, but we are dealing with this in our own way and we don’t need violent outsiders. There is going to be a lot of trouble and I hope people keep away and let the police deal with it.”
Council leader, Cllr Anne Millward, said she was angered that the EDL want to come to the “peaceful town”, as West Midlands Police confirm there will be a “robust police presence” on the day in case of trouble.
Cllr Millward said: “I think it is very important that the four political party leaders have all signed this statement. We are very concerned that the EDL say they welcome people from all creeds and colours and hold peaceful protests, but there has been violence and major disruption from their recent events in Birmingham and Stoke.”
She added: “They say they are coming to protest against the planned mosque, but we’ve had a mosque in Dudley for over 30 years. So what is the point of them coming? We don’t want them and for them to come on Easter Sunday, one of the most important days in the Christian calendar, I think is an absolute travesty. I just urge people to stay away”.
The council leader also confirmed town shops would already be closed for the day, because of Easter Sunday, but council and police officers are approaching all town licencees to voluntary close as well, adding “as they may not have a business on the Monday”.
Cllr Millward has also condemned plans announced by anti-fascist group Unite Against Fascism (UAF) who have confirmed they will be holding a counter-demonstration on the day, with fears that thousands of outsiders could angrily clash in the town centre. Cllr Millward said: “The plans for the anti-fascist group to outnumber the EDL I think is highly irresponsible. This group just need to be completely ignored.”
But UAF officials said they are organising the “largest peace protest to counteract” the EDL, whose protest will just be “thuggery and hatred”.
Martin Lynch, Black Country spokesman for Unite Against Fascism (UAF), said: “We don’t think people who believe in racism and hatred should be allowed to come to Dudley town centre or anywhere else for that matter. At a recent demonstration in Stoke they ran amok smashing property and hurting people. There is no way this is a legitimate protest of any kind. It will just be thuggery and hatred. If this does go ahead we will seek to call the largest peace protest to counteract theirs.”
Meanwhile, Jim Warner, spokesman for Dudley’s Trade Union Council (TUC) said members had passed a resolution supporting UAF’s counterprotest. Mr Warner said: “We are calling on all our local union branches to encourage members to turn out with their union banners for a peaceful protest. We have also put together a unity statement which has been signed by all our trade union branches, community and faith groups supporting this decision and calling for the protest to be abandoned.”
But an EDL spokesman said the protest “will take place” because of the belief that “many wrongs have been committed.”