The North West Infidels’ anti-mosque protest should not have been allowed in a residential area, a councillor claims.
Cllr Guy Harkin said he and his Crompton ward colleagues were “profoundly unhappy” that protesters from outside of Bolton were bussed in by coaches to the area for the demonstration on Saturday.
But police said they offered other locations to protesters – but they were adamant that they would protest close to the mosque.
Cllr Harkin said: “People have the right to a peaceful protest, but the lot on Saturday looked like the cast of Benefits Street. They are thugs. Why should a national protest be allowed to come into a small side street, in the middle of our ward?
“You have a demonstration attracting people from across the country, and it struck me it is just not acceptable to bring these people into a residential area. It wasn’t a peaceful protest. It was a violent protest that was contained by the police who stopped it becoming a major incident.”
The rally followed the successful application by the leaders of the Taiyabah Islamic Centre to extend and build 19 classrooms on disused land off Canning Street. A counter-demonstration was organised, and hundreds of police officers were drafted in from across the North West to keep the two sides apart.
Cllr Harkin said early police intelligence was that only Canning Street would be closed during the protest, but on the day Blackburn Road was shut off to traffic for more than an hour. He also said the agreement that there would be no marching by the NWI protesters was broken, as a group paraded down Blackburn Road before the main rally.
Campaign group Bolton Against Racism has also submitted a complaint to the police over the demonstration.
It is understood police asked demonstrators to move their protest to several different locations – including Victoria Square in Bolton town centre – but they refused. Police were concerned that if not accommodated, the protesters would have started unofficial demontrations, potentially putting the community at risk.
Supt Andrea Jones said the police worked very closely with Bolton Council, local elected members and the community in the run-up to the protest.
She added: “Alternative sites to the Canning Street and Blackburn Road area were identified and offered, but the protest organisers were insistent that the demonstration should take place within close proximity to the proposed mosque site. We therefore had to balance the right to protest with ensuring the safety of the people of Bolton.
“After much discussion it was decided that Canning Street location was the most suitable location for us to manage the large number of protesters and reduce the risk of disorder. It is regrettable that a small number of protesters walked along Blackburn Road which was not what had been agreed in advance with the organisers. We moved quickly to stop these individuals from walking along Blackburn Road.”
See also “‘I’m not a racist’, says man photographed at North West Infidels protest”, Bolton News, 8 August 2014