Police say they cannot ban a far right march planned for Portsmouth – as this would breach protesters’ human rights.
An estimated 1,500 members of the English Defence League (EDL) are to hold a mass demonstration in the city on July 16.
Portsmouth City Council met Hampshire Constabulary this week to see if the march could be stopped, especially as rival groups are also planning to head to the city, creating a potential clash with the EDL. But police chiefs told them they are powerless to ban it.
Superintendent Rick Burrows said the European Convention on Human Rights means the march must go ahead. He said: ‘Our position is simple. The convention says we must not restrict peaceful protest, we must actually facilitate it. The political position of the marchers is irrelevant. We can use the Public Order Act to stop marches, but only if a threshold of disorder is reached. This march doesn’t do that.
‘We’ve been working closely with the marchers and the council. Most importantly we’re working with the local community. We’ll have all possible resources dedicated to upholding public safety. The city is at the centre of our actions.’
Fears have been raised over the march, as many believe the English Defence League is a racist organisation. The group denies the claims, saying it wants to protest against Islamic extremism, and is working with police for a peaceful march. It has agreed not to lay wreaths at the city’s war memorials, and to hold a rally in Victoria Park, instead of Guildhall Square as it had hoped.
Cllr Jason Fazackarley said: ‘We wanted to see if it could be banned, because we oppose it. But the police have told us that can’t be done, because they and we must comply with human rights rules. I want people to know I and many others on the cabinet don’t support this march, and don’t want it here.’
Cllr Fazackarley said other groups, including Unite Against Facism (UAF), planned to march on the same day, sparking concerns the demonstration could spill into violence, similar as to what happened outside the Jami Mosque in Southsea in November.
Council leaders had discussed shutting Victoria Park for the day, but were advised not to. Cllr Fazackarley said: ‘We told the police we’d shut Victoria Park, but they said we couldn’t, because under the law we could be sued if we tried to stop them. But the UAF have said they plan to march and end in Guildhall Square next to the park. And the Muslim community have told us they hear extremist Muslims will get involved, too.’
Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘I don’t agree with the EDL and don’t want them in the city. But they have a legal right to protest, so there’s nothing we can do.’
Thanks to NewsHound for the heads-up