Harlow Strong organiser Leo Hartley plans to press ahead with Sunday’s (June 23) march – despite mounting opposition from community groups who fear the event will attract right-wing extremists.
The rally, which was originally set up under the banner of the controversial Woolwich Strong movement, is described as a “peaceful t-shirt charity march” by Mr Hartley.
But critics, including the Harlow branch of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and local trade unionists, fear the event is a front for far-right political group the English Defence League and have urged organisers to call it off.
“I was very disappointed to read about plans for an ‘alternative peaceful march’ which painted Harlow Strong as not being peaceful,” Mr Hartley said. “I have always said, and continue to say, that this march is a peaceful one and has no political affiliations. I have been very open about why I am doing this: it’s to make a stand against extremism – there is no political agenda.”
His claims appeared to be backed by the EDL this week after the far-right group dismissed speculation they were linked with the event. Regional organiser for the Essex EDL Mark Dunbar told the Star:
“As far as we’re concerned, this march has no direct affiliation with the EDL. We have already held our own tributes to Lee Rigby elsewhere in Essex and will have no direct involvement with Sunday’s march in Harlow. However, we love our soldiers, and if our members wish to attend and pay tribute, there is nothing to stop them from doing so.”
Although a counter-march planned for the day before Harlow Strong supporters take to the streets has now been cancelled following the resignation of organiser David Forman from his post as secretary of the Harlow Trades Council, Harlow UAF members still plan to make their own stand against the march on Sunday afternoon by hosting a “multicultural festival” on Broad Walk.
“We’re having lots of different foods from all over the world as well as anti-racism speakers and music,” a UAF spokesman confirmed. “Our concerns are still there with regards to Harlow Strong but we feel this will be a good way of countering this.”
Harlow Strong will be meeting outside the Civic Centre at 11.30am before marching to the Netteswell War Memorial.