Waltham Forest Police has said it will not apply for a ban stopping the far-right English Defence League (EDL) from marching through Walthamstow.
The extremist group is planning a demonstration on Saturday October 27 after its previous march in Walthamstow back in September ended in disarray. The EDL, which claims to be opposed to Islamic extremism but which critics say is racist, attempted to hold a rally but most of its 300 supporters were blocked from getting there by thousands of counter-protesters. There were also missiles thrown from both sides and 20 people were arrested.
Last month Waltham Forest Council launched a campaign, supported by the Waltham Forest Guardian, urging the government to ban the second march from going ahead. But in a statement police said they could not back it because the EDL had a legal right to protest and there was no intelligence to suggest a march would cause serious violence or disruption to the community.
Jo Cardwell, from the We Are Waltham Forest group, urged residents to take part in a counter-protest on October 27 instead. She said: “I don’t believe bans work. The law only prevents the EDL from marching. They will still be able to come to Walthamstow and hold a static protest. It’s very clear that it was 4,000 on the streets that stopped them last time and we’ll have to do it again.”
Fellow spokeswoman Sophie Bolt added that the EDL should not return because the protest was during the holy Muslim festival of Eid.
A police spokeswoman said: “An application [to the government] can only be made where police believe that the protest going ahead would cause serious violence, disorder, damage or disruption to the life of the community that is beyond the control of the police. We do not believe that the criteria applies in this circumstance.”
But police have announced on their Twitter page that they could stop the EDL from showing the controversial film ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ – which sparked riots across the world – during the Walthamstow march.
Campaigners have circulated an image from the EDL’s Facebook page which appears to show its intention to broadcast the film, although the post has since been deleted.
Police told the Guardian: “We have no confirmation that a video or film will be shown by the EDL, however if one is shown and is likely to be offensive or cause alarm and distress we have powers under Section 4 of the Public Order act to prevent it.”
The EDL has not yet responded to the Guardian‘s requests for a comment.
See also “Packed meeting as Walthamstow prepares to stop EDL again”, UAF news report, 9 October 2012