EDL Luton demo

A massive police presence appears to have prevented any violence between supporters of the English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism at a big day of demos in Luton.

Around 1,800 officers were deployed in the town to keep the two sides apart on Saturday 5 February 2011 in a massive police operation which involved 27 different forces and is estimated to have cost £800,000.

To hear the full interview with Mike Colbourne from Bedfordshire Police click here

To hear the full interview with Hazel Simmons from Luton Borough Council click here

Despite their claims that it would be the biggest ever rally by the English Defence League only 1500 of their supporters turned up.  A police cordon kept them away from 1000 people in the counter demonstration by Unite Against Fascism.

The force helicopter hovered over the town centre all day, shops and the library were boarded up, pub and roads were shut and buses diverted as the sides were kept apart.

Hundreds of EDL supporters gathered first in the High Town area of Luton, close to the railway station.

There were minor problems when UAF members went to the railway station and linked arms to create a barrier to prevent people from leaving.

Later hundreds of chanting EDL supporters were escorted by police from the High Town area to St George's Square. As they made their way, two grenade-like firecrackers were set off, frightening police horses.

Many of the demonstrators had been drinking and some were still walking along with cans of strong lager and cider.

Waving flags of St George and banners, they shouted "No surrender to the Taliban," "England 'til I die," and  "EDL, EDL."

Banners included the words "Close down all mosques," Patriotism is not racism" and "Try burning a copy now."

They met in the square next to the Town hall which flew the "Luton in Harmony flag" where they were addressed by their leader Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Lennon, and other speakers.

Robinson was caught in a crush in the crowd leading to the square, but was unhurt.

300 yards away UAF supporters gathered on Market Hill for their own demo. Many had placards and banners, with the words "Smash the EDL" and "BNP."

The Socialist Workers Party had set up stalls and UAF supporters have come from as far away as Leicester to voice their disapproval that the EDL were being allowed to stage their rally.

One woman, who said she was a UAF member, said "In October last year the English Defence League came to Leicester, which is a fantastic multi cultural city, and they came there to try and get people to fight each other.  We know how the people of Luton feel."

At one point  a break-away group of around 100 people from the UAF tried to get through a police cordon into George Street and onto St George's Square. There were scuffles and officers on horseback were called in to stop the mob from breaking through.

Luton town centre was visibly quieter as shoppers stayed away from the normally bustling shopping centre. Most of the shops in the nearby Arndale centre, which runs between the two sites of the demonstration were open but were not busy.

In the morning a minibus had been stopped on the M1 motorway and searched. As a result, one person had been arrested for possessing cannabis. The police said rumours of a large amount of weapons being found were untrue, but one bat was recovered and confiscated.

Eight people were arrested during the day. One for assault on a police officer, two for possession of drugs, one for drink driving, one for assault on his coach driver, two for possessioon of an offensive weapon and one for failing to appear at court and racially aggravated public order.
Detectives are also investigating  a fight at the bottom of Dunstable Road, close to the mainly Muslim Bury Park area of Luton.  Two men had minor head injuries.

19 people were treated for minor injuries. Sixteen were members of the public or protestors. Some were due to sprained ankles or falling over earlier in the day.  Five were taken to hospital and one made his own way there.

The other three were police officers. None were thought to be as a result of assaults.

Beds police said rumours of a Mosque being attacked in the town were untrue.