Thousands of parents will get letters warning them to consider keeping their children out of Bolton during a far-right demonstration. The letters will be sent by schools across the borough ahead of the planned rally by the English Defence League. Council bosses and police hope parents will encourage youngsters to stay out of the town centre on March 20.
The council is awaiting a response from the government to a legal plea to Home Secretary Alan Johnson calling for the march to be banned. Neither local authorities nor the police have powers to ban static protests. Town hall bosses are now seeking a face-to-face meeting with Mr Johnson. In the meantime the council has confirmed it is planning for the event to go ahead.
Pleas for people not to join counter-protests have been made after Unite Against Fascism confirmed it will meet the EDL rally in Victoria Square. Police also revealed officers who manned the EDL rally in Manchester last year have been spoken to as part of the planning process. Then there were 44 arrests and 10 injuries when violence flared in and around Piccadilly Gardens and Shudehill. Bolton council said it had also been liaising with Manchester council. Further details about the exact policing operation are expected to be revealed next week.
Sean Harriss, Bolton council’s chief executive, said: “People have a lawful right to protest. It is part of what living in a democracy is all about. We advise people to think very carefully because these events in the past have caused trouble. We are erring on the side of caution. Letters will go out to schools. There will be a letter home to parents. It will tell people about what is going on and tell parents to think carefully about the issue and young people coming into Bolton.”
Religious leaders from all faiths have joined forces to call for a boycott of the march, and the campaign will be highlighted at Saturday’s match between Bolton Wanderers and Wigan at the Reebok Stadium. Businesses and taxi drivers have been briefed and the council said the message would be that town would be open as usual. Shops and pubs are not being told to close.
Mr Harriss added: “We want to try to prevent this event on public safety grounds. Our big concern is the risk of violent disorder and public safety. We know there is always a counter demonstration and Bolton is no exception. The policing response is based on that scenario.”
Police, who will limit entry to Victoria Square, said officers would be at Bolton railway and bus stations. Chief Supt Steven Hartley said: “There will be a significant policing operation.”
Manchester Evening News