An English Defence League (EDL) demonstration in front of the city hall at 7pm today was met by a contingent of anti-fascists more than double their size.
At its largest the EDL numbered around 20, whereas the anti-fascists saw their numbers grow to at least 45 by 7:30pm, including students from the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University and local FE colleges as well as members of Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
The counter-demonstration was organised by Secretary of Sheffield UAF Paul Scarrott after the group became aware of plans for EDL action outside the city hall.
EDL protesters chanted “E, E, EDL” next to the fountain on Division Street, while anti-fascist protesters responded with “Sheffield united, we’ll never be defeated” from beside the war memorial. After 30 minutes of demonstrating the EDL contingent had dispersed.
Anti-fascist protesters then headed to a local mosque to meet with caretaking staff.
Paul said the counter-demonstration was organised from around 3pm that day. He said: “We are condemning the attack in London yesterday and the attempt to use it to whip up racism. We are saying that we stand in Sheffield united together.”
Anti-fascist protester Ged Clogan said: “We heard that the EDL were going to be gathering in the city centre and we thought it was important to get down there, show some unity and strength and show that Sheffield will not be intimidated by them.”
It is thought the EDL demonstration was arranged on Twitter earlier today.
This demonstration follows the murder of a soldier in Woolwich, London yesterday, which has sparked separate attacks on mosques in Kent and Essex and a gathering of up to 250 EDL members in Woolwich last night.
EDL protester Sarah Jane said: “England is a very small country and we cannot house people. It’s not about religion, it’s that England should be English.” Asked why the EDL turned up today, she said that everything coming here is “Muslim.”
She said: “I think people have got really passionate over the last couple of days and are thinking no, we are not having this.” Another EDL protester with her said the EDL was not a racist party.
Anti-fascist protesters began gathering at 6:45pm in front of Sheffield city hall. Paul was in the process of giving a speech when EDL members turned up at 7pm.
Following the half-hour stand-off across Barkers Pool – in which the police presence peaked at 11 officers and four vehicles – Paul gave a speech to the anti-fascist demonstrators in front of a crowd of between 50 and 60. He said: “We have to be vigilant and prepared to come out and speak out in a united way.”