SDL outnumbered by anti-fascists in Berwick

Berwick anti-SDL demo

Five people were arrested amid clashes and disorder as an anti-Islamic group and its opponent marched through a border town.

Potential troublemakers were also escorted from the scene and potential racist language reported as the Scottish Defence League (SDL) and United Against Fascism (UAF) both staged marches in Berwick on Saturday.

Northumbria Police has said appropriate action will be taken where offences have been committed.

The UAF group has hailed the day a victory for the people of Berwick in their stand against fascism.

The SDL is an offshoot of the English Defence League (EDL), a far-right protest movement which opposes what it sees as the spread of Islamism in the UK. Some events held by the EDL have led to public disorder in England.

The SDL’s Border Division organised its march which took place on Saturday. In response, Berwick UAF was formed and arranged a counter march.

Police drafted in extra resource to deal with the protests.

On the day, five people were arrested, one for being drunk and disorderly, two for breach of the peace, one for possession of cannabis and one for disorderly conduct.

Police said there were instances of disorder and some clashes between groups.

However, they insisted that most protesters behaved in an acceptable manner.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Ashman said: “Our role was to protect, reassure and support the people of Berwick.

“We worked with organisers from the protesting groups from an early stage, making it clear what we expected from them and what they could expect from us.

“A number of people failed to live up to their responsibilities and we acted immediately to head off any trouble.

“We quickly identified a number of potential troublemakers and escorted them from the town, others were arrested.

“A number of people have expressed their concerns to us over potentially racist language used during the protests.

“We will review information received during the day from the public, from protesters and from officers and appropriate action will be taken in cases where offences have been committed.

“Although we unwaveringly support peaceful protest, we are equally direct when we say we will not tolerate disorder of any kind.”

A spokesman for Berwick UAF claimed his group had around 120 marchers – with town residents joined by student groups from Newcastle, Durham, Glasgow and Edinburgh – to the SDL’s 40 to 50, some of whom he said were from the EDL.

He claimed the arrests had been on the SDL side and that members of that group had tried to “get at us”.

The spokesman called the day “a massive success for us”.

“We outnumbered them at least two to one, by some estimates three to one,” he said.

“The people of Berwick showed a really united front, a cross-section, all ages, all groups, all backgrounds.”

The Journal, 18 February 2013

Update:  See “Five SDL arrests on day of protest”, Berwick Advertiser, 19 February 2013