The right-wing English Defence League (EDL) is planning a protest gathering at the heart of the Muslim community in South Tyneside.
Up to 500 members of the organisation have been invited to the proposed demonstration in Ocean Road, South Shields, on Saturday, August 31. The meeting is said to be a reaction to an ongoing court case involving three former South Tyneside College students accused of raping two 14-year-old girls.
Today, a Muslim community leader expressed his alarm at the plan, and he is calling on the authorities to make sure it does not go ahead.
A borough police chief confirmed that the force are aware of the planned protest, advertised on the EDL’s Facebook page, and are monitoring the situation.
Showkoth Choudhoury, owner of the Monsoon restaurant in Ocean Road, said: “This is very worrying. Muslims and non-Muslims live peacefully side by side in South Shields. Bangladeshi and English cultures co-exist. This protest should not be allowed to go ahead. It is merely inciting racial hatred, and any gathering that does that is illegal. The EDL is using this court case as an excuse to divide our community. It must be stopped.”
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said that the authority had not received formal notification of the march from the EDL, but he added: “It’s the police, not the council, who they need to notify.”
Coun John Anglin, a ward representative for Beacon and Bents in South Shields, is concerned about the protest. He said: “I wasn’t aware of this, and I will be looking into the legality of it.”
On the North East EDL’s Facebook page, it is said that 181 members have already confirmed that they plan to attend the gathering, with 23 saying they “may be going”, out of 500 invited.
Inspector Peter Sutton, of South Shields town centre’s neighbourhood policing team, said: “We are aware that this is on the EDL’s Facebook page and are monitoring the situation.”
The trial of the three men accused of the rapes in Beaufront Terrace, South Shields, in February last year was halted at Newcastle Crown Court late last month for legal reasons.
Ferdoush Hasan, 22, Raabsan Khan, 19, and Abu Sufian, 21, all in the UK on student visas, deny a joint charge of rape. Hasan denies a further rape charge. The case is to be relisted later in the year.