More than 400 officers took to the streets of Plymouth city centre to police two opposing marches – which numbered around about 300 people in total. Senior officers have defended the large deployment of officers, some of whom were drafted in from Avon and Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire forces, claiming it was necessary to “lessen the impact of the marches”.
While the far-right English Defence League (EDL) set off from the Wild Coyote public house in Exeter Street at 1pm on Saturday, a counter-rally, organised by unionists and the Unite Against Fascism group, set off from the Jigsaw Gardens in Cornwall Street. Both groups, which held around 100 to 150 marchers each, were accompanied on their separate routes through the city by a sizeable number of officers, some wearing protective gear and carrying riot helmets.
Labour councillors Chaz Singh (Drake) and Philippa Davey (Stoke) were joined by Plymouth Moor View MP Alison Seabeck at the Jigsaw gardens.
Ms Davey said: “We want to highlight the tactics of the EDL, where they claim they’re not racists and it’s only about extremist Muslims. We also want to show that despite their best attempts to show antifascist groups as anarchists, we are the peaceful ones and we will not rise to their intimidation.”
Mr Singh said: “We want to show that the true representation of diversity is here. We’re not here to exacerbate the problem, we’re here to show that we are the real people of Plymouth”.
One of the organisers of the EDL march – Hayley also known as Princess Angel – said their protest was to “wake people up to the lies of Islam”. She claimed a mosque was being build in Beaumont Road, Greenbank – which is described as an Islamic cultural centre by its owners the Plymouth Islamic Education Trust (Piety) – and that the “religion was full of hate and not peaceful at all.”
She said: “We’re not a racist organisation. We’re only against Muslim extremists. We’re not racists – we do have coloured members. There’s a non-white person here [today].”
Police said the day passed without major incident and only six arrests – a 28-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon at the Jigsaw gardens, a 45-year-old man on suspicion of breach of the peace in Notte Street and a 25-year-old man for assault occasioning actual bodily harm and possession of cannabis in Armada Way. Police say three more men were arrested during the marches for breach of the peace.
Police later charged the 28-year-old man and he is expected to appear before Plymouth magistrates on July 20 charged with possession of an offensive weapon. The remaining five arrested were later released on police bail.
Following the march, the EDL held speeches opposite the Holiday Inn by Citadel Road, while the opposing marchers carried out their shorter speeches close to the sundial in Armada Way. Both groups were then escorted back to the starting points by police.