Leading councillors have issued a desperate plea to the government ahead of the English Defence League march planned for Feburary 5, saying the event is likely to cause “serious disorder”.
The leaders of the local Labour, Tory and Conservative groups wrote to Theresa May on Friday, asking for her support should they choose to pursue a ban on the march. They said the image of Luton had suffered following the Stockholm suicide bombing by Luton man Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, and that forthcoming march had compounded the “negative media coverage”, causing “deep dismay and anxiety among the wider community in Luton – of whatever background, faith or outlook”.
Councillors Hazel Simmons, David Franks and Michael Garrett wrote: “We recognise that a ‘banning order’ on the EDL and counter demonstrators, would not prohibit them from holding a static demonstration. However a march is – in our opinion – provocative and not conducive to the public good at this time and would risk serious disorder. Further to this, the presence of the EDL processing through Luton has generated significant plans for visible and voluble counter-protests by other groups.”
The letter prompted the EDL to accuse the council of “trying to silence free speech and democracy”.
Spokesman Guramit Singh said he believed stopping the march would only cause more problems. He told the BBC: “When you ban marches you take away a key element of the demonstration and the logistics of the demonstration crumble and you get a lot of trouble.”
But Dr Fiaz Hussain from the Luton Council of Mosques said ordinary Muslims were “living in fear” at the prospect of the EDL coming back to the town. He said: “People are wondering what they have done to deserve this. Some people are living in very deprived areas and the last thing they want is groups coming to town and throwing abuse and hate around. People here just want to get on with their lives. My message to the EDL would be let’s sit round the table and talk about this. Let’s look at the grievances and see how we can address them.”
Other groups including Unite Against Fascism and the Muslim Defence League (MDL) are planning counter-protests on the day. A member of the MDL who contacted the Luton News said he was certain the EDL’s protest would turn violent, and that MDL members were aiming to “march peacefully, protect the Luton Asian community and to protect religious buildings”.