Police who made 30 arrests at an English Defence League protest in the Midlands have insisted they are powerless to stop the far-right group returning.
As traders in Walsall tried to return to normal after Saturday’s gathering, officers said their hands were tied in the eyes of the law. A West Midlands Police spokeswoman said: “Even if we get intelligence to suggest a future protest isn’t going to be peaceful, the law states a static protest is a human right and needs to be facilitated. A march can be banned, but not a static protest.”
The force said all those arrested for public order offences during the protest in Lichfield Street had been bailed. Items including chairs, bricks and bottles were hurled by demonstrators who tried to storm through a line of police officers who battled to contain EDL supporters.
Only five per cent of stalls at Walsall Market opened on the day and several pubs were closed.
Andy Summers, of the inclusive We Are Walsall group, which staged a counter-demonstration on Saturday, said: “The question must be whether any further request to protest in our streets by this discredited organisation should ever be allowed by Walsall Council.”
The legal position is that Walsall Council have no more power than the police to impose an outright ban on a static protest, and neither does the Home Secretary. However, the police do have powers under Section 14 of the Public Order Act to impose conditions on a static protest.
If the police believe that a public assembly might result in “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community” or if the aim of the assembly is to intimidate others, then they have the power to “give directions imposing on the persons organising or taking part in the assembly such conditions as to the place at which the assembly may be (or continue to be) held, its maximum duration, or the maximum number of persons who may constitute it”.
So the EDL has no automatic right to hold a static protest right in the centre of Walsall. West Midlands Police have the power under Section 14 to instruct the EDL to hold their demonstration somewhere well away from the town centre where they can’t cause the kind of disruption and violence that they did on Saturday.