Around 2,000 EDL supporters descended on Blackburn from around the country on Saturday while an estimated 500 opposition protesters also gathered. Many town leaders had feared the eruption of widespread violence but only 12 people were arrested across the day.
It is understood that around 1,900 officers from across the North West took part in the operation and MP Jack Straw said the security clampdown would end up costing taxpayers around £1 million.
Mr Straw praised the skill of the police but said many people would be angry that the ‘self-indulgence’ of the EDL would result in such a high cost. Town centre shops also lost trade and Phil Ainsworth, of Blackburn’s Town Centre Partnership, said it had been a ‘disastrous’ retail day.
Eight-foot high steel barriers fenced in the 2,000 EDL demonstrators inside the King George’s Hall section of Northgate.
The only violence during the day was two large brawls, lasting up to 10 minutes, among the EDL protest. Those arrested - the majority of whom were from the EDL side - were questioned for alleged offences including assault, drunk and disorderly, affray and public order. Six of those were from Blackburn and rest from Yorkshire, the Midlands, North East and Bolton.
The counter-demonstration, said to be celebrating Blackburn’s diversity, in Sudell Cross passed without incident, except for concern over groups of youths throwing firecrackers on the floor.
Blackburn’s Mall Shopping Centre remained open from 9am until 5.30pm, with four shops deciding to close and another four closing earlier. While numbers of shoppers were a lot lower than a normal Saturday, there were no incidents inside the centre. Extra security guards and police were deployed throughout the Mall. Blackburn Market opened, but bosses decided to close the facility at 1.50pm amid fears of protesters descending on the area.
Around ninety officers remained on duty in the town centre until 5am, and there was no trouble reported in the evening or through the night.
Successful police tactics included:
- A lead-in operation which saw EDL coaches escorted from the M65.
- ‘Fencing in’ all the access points around the EDL in the Mincing Lane, and Northgate area which kept groups separate.
- Not using any officers in riot gear in a more non-confrontational approach.
- Deciding not to split up the EDL brawls, instead letting the group’s own stewards sort it out.
- Escorting the EDL out of town and holding back counter-demonstrators until they had left.
Police said the decision to keep pubs closed until 4pm meant that, when the premises re-opened in time for the Arsenal versus Blackburn Rovers match live on television, the EDL protesters had left town.
Harry Catherall, deputy chief executive of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council said he was pleased with the way the event had been managed. He said: “On the whole, it passed off peacefully. But I do apologise for the inconvenience that has been caused to businesses and residents on this unusual and difficult day.”
Thanks to NewsHound and Zaahid for the heads-up