Islam march may be banned

A protest march against what a group are calling 'militant Islam' could now be banned, because of fears it'll lead to violence.

Luton Borough Council are worried about what the far right group The English Defence League plan to do in the town on 5 February 2011.

In a letter they've written to the Home Secretary Theresa May, they've asked for her support if they decide to formally request a 'banning order', which would stop the EDL from marching through Luton.

The Council are particularly worried that counter-protests are already being organised by other groups.  Previous demonstrations by the English Defence League in Luton have led to confrontations with other groups.

Here is the full transcript of the letter:

Dear Home Secretary,

We wrote to you recently with regard to the issues presented to Luton by the potential attendance of Pastor Terry Jones at a rally and march to be held by the English Defence League on 5th February 2011.

Our view remains that Pastor Jones’ attendance in Luton is not conducive to community cohesion at a sensitive time for the town. We hope very strongly that you will agree to prohibit his entry into the UK so that he cannot participate in any way in any event or action either directly or indirectly associated with the EDL event in our town on that date.

However, a larger issue now faces us as a town – one of very significant importance and which the community here in Luton feel very strongly about.

You will – we are sure – have seen the significant national media coverage about Luton in recent weeks. Virtually all national newspapers and many international publications have run significant stories about Luton as a town following the “Stockholm bomber’s” appalling actions. The proposed rally and march by the English Defence League on the 5th of next month has compounded the negative media coverage – something that has caused deep dismay and anxiety among the wider community in Luton – of whatever background, faith or outlook.

Consequently, we write to seek your support in the event the Police and the Council decide to formally request a ‘banning order’ on the English Defence League (including any proposed counter marches or protests). Such an order, if sought and imposed, would prohibit the EDL from marching/processing through the town and would send a strong signal to the diverse community of Luton that the preservation of strong community cohesion is of paramount importance. 

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. Any march proposed by the EDL would – by necessity – need to travel through residential areas from the train station and other access points into the town.

Further to this, the presence of the EDL processing through Luton has generated significant plans for visible and voluble counter-protests by other groups, some of whom will include Luton residents and others who will not. We would include among the groups who wish to counter-protest not only organised groups such as Unite Against Fascism (UAF), but also groups associated with the recent student protests in central London and potentially other groups associated with the defence of Islam from perceived threats. The intelligence available suggests this is the case. 

We cannot rule out also the possibility that local Asian youths and others may also wish to counter-protest, which could create real issues for cohesion both on the day and after the 5th February itself.

Alongside Bedfordshire Police, we continue to monitor the situation with regard to the EDL very carefully. Highly provocative remarks have been made by senior EDL members in recent weeks. These are now featured on YouTube and are being accessed and passed around – not only among the EDL, but among other communities, thereby increasing tensions to a significant degree. The risk of disorder is real - and it is for that reason that we feel inclined to write to you in this matter.

All in all, the possibility for serious disorder in Luton on the 5th February is real. 

The presence of a high numbers of demonstrators supporting rival and diametrically opposing views is not conducive to the wellbeing of our community and has the potential to spark tensions and community impacts which as a Council we have worked so hard to avoid in recent years.

Whilst we accept that a case for a banning order may be frustrated in law, the issues raised by the various protagonists are of national origin and importance, with Luton simply being the venue for events on the 5th of February. We feel therefore, that this matter requires urgent consideration at a national, non-partisan level, if we are to support our community in Luton. Moreover, your intervention now could stop a similar scenario, with concomitant impact on communities, business and the public purse, from playing out in other towns and cities. 

It is worth also remembering the very significant financial cost involved in policing a potential EDL procession and counter-protests – a cost that public agencies will have to bear at what is already a very difficult time.

We can confirm that Luton Borough Council has consulted widely about this request – including with key community representatives.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Hazel Simmons
Leader of the Council

Cllr David Franks
Leader of the Liberal Democrat group

Cllr Michael Garrett
Leader of the Conservative Group

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