Taxpayers have been left with a £2 million bill after violent protests by the English Defence League brought terror to the Midlands. And today we can identify the leader of the right-wing group as Tommy Robinson, photographed for the first time at the recent Dudley protest.
The cost of policing the EDL’s anti-Muslim extremist demonstrations has hit an estimated £2 million – which does not include losses to businesses forced to close. The group claim they are campaigning against the rise of militant Islam, but their critics argue they are nothing more than football hooligans.
Robinson is a reclusive figure who shuns the spotlight. He can often be seen marshalling EDL supporters while wearing a mask and hoodie at demonstrations. Little is known about him other than he is from Luton, where he supposedly works as a carpenter. Sources say Robinson has been a key player in the organisation since it was set-up following sickening Muslim protests against returning soldiers in the town during early 2009.
The EDL first targeted Birmingham last September, but protesters from rival group Unite Against Fascism turned up to oppose them. Cops fought running battles as thugs ran through the city centre, brandishing sticks and hurling bricks at massed ranks of riot police. Over 90 people were arrested as terrified shoppers were barricaded inside stores to save them from the violence outside. At the height of the violence, yobs laid siege to Bennett’s pub on Bennett’s Hill, where cops had controversially corralled more than 100 boozed-up protesters.
The two groups have continued to stage a rolling war across the region since then, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage and using up hundreds of hours of valuable police time.
The EDL have returned to Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Nottingham and most recently to Dudley to protest over plans for a controversial mosque. Police sources say the Dudley protest cost £400,000 to staff, with each of the other four rallies costing up to £200,000. Cost to councils for each protest is estimated at £150,000, taking the total taxpayer bill to £1.95 million – without including the huge losses to businesses.
One insider said: ‘‘People have the right to protest but this group is costing us millions of pounds and stretching our resources to the limit. They are also damaging the fragile balance of our communities and taking us back to the kind of violence we witnessed in the dark days of the 1970s. The truth is we don’t want any protesters from any group fighting and causing damage on our streets, now or in the future.”
The Sunday Mercury managed to get a brief interview with Robinson on the eve of the Dudley protest, which passed off peacefully compared to running battles witnessed in Birmingham. He was defiant about the loss of earnings local traders would suffer due to street closures, which virtually shut the town down.
Robinson boasted: “We’re happy for the disruption to go ahead and we apologise, but feel people will thank us in the long run. Losing a few days’ business will be worth it. We just want our chance to have our voices heard and we’re going to have our voices heard.”