Hundreds of police officers from West Yorkshire and beyond will be drafted into Batley on Saturday (Aug 9) for a rally by the right-wing English Defence League. Traders have been told that up to 700 police officers will be put on standby to help prevent trouble.
The Yorkshire EDL Batley Division has called a national demonstration in protest at what they say is the growing influence of Islam and English people “treated as second class citizens.” As many as 600 EDL supporters from across the country could converge on Batley.
A counter demonstration, organised by Kirklees Unite Against Fascism and Huddersfield TUC, will also be held. The Celebration of Unity event is described as a “peaceful, anti-racist” gathering with music and speeches.
The EDL previously held big demonstrations in Dewsbury, in 2011 and 2012. In June 2012 around 500 EDL supporters met up in Dewsbury town centre. Afterwards it was estimated that policing and lost trade had cost the economy up to £500,000.
Batley councillors, politicians, Muslim leaders and the Bishop of Pontefract the Rt Rev Tony Robinson have all signed a Batley Unity Statement opposing the EDL rally.
Mr Andrew Marsden, chairman of the Batley Business Association, said the rally was the last thing Batley needed but it would remain defiantly “open for business.” Mr Marsden said he had attended a consultation meeting with police, Kirklees Council and other officials which was told that 700 police officers would be drafted in.
While police were expecting up to 600 EDL supporters the rally coincided with the start of the football season – many EDL members were said to be football fans – and numbers could be around half that.
Mr Marsden said it was likely police would be “bussed in” from other areas and it could be that police officers out-numbered demonstrators by two or three to one. He added: “The message is Batley is open for business as usual and no one is going to close. However, this is Batley’s biggest shopping day of the week and there will be an impact. People are likely to stay away.”
It is understood the EDL will meet up at the Wellington Street end of town about 11am and police want to restrict them to two licensed premises. They will then walk through the town for a rally outside Batley Town Hall at 2pm. The counter-demonstration will be held at New Way car park above the library.
Bob Stoker, secretary of Huddersfield TUC, appealed for people to support the unity event and said: “The biggest possible gathering will help show that the overwhelming majority of Batley people reject the violence, racism and division of the EDL.”
Insp Neil Money, of Batley and Spen Neighbourhood Policing Team, said the EDL rally was a “procession and short demonstration.”
He added: “The EDL, like any group, have the legal right to peaceful protest. While we have to facilitate that right, West Yorkshire Police will not tolerate any acts of anti-social behaviour, damage, violence or other criminal behaviour from any individual or group.
“Peaceful protest is lawful and everyone’s right but the police and the council will plan to minimise any impact on local businesses, shops and communities.”