Organisers of counter EDL march insist event will be a ‘celebration of Luton’

We are Luton

The organisers of a counter EDL march say that they are mobilising to stop the far right group from “rampaging” through the streets of Bury Park.

For the first time since the departure of the group’s former leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon the English Defence League has organised a demonstration in the town, which is set to take place from 2pm on Saturday November 22. At the time of writing a Facebook page for the demo shows more than 380 are due to attend, with a further 1,300 invited.

In retaliation community group We Are Luton have organised a counter march in conjunction with Unite Against Fascism, which will gather in front of Bury Park Community Centre, Dunstable Road, from noon. An advert for the event, which has been named ‘Stop the EDL’, states the intention to form a “strong and united” opposition to prevent the possibility of rioting.

Organiser Dawood Masood, of the Al Hira Educational and Cultural Centre, told the Herald & Post that the march will be peaceful.

He said: “Whenever the EDL come to Luton they are made up of people from outside the town, so we want the people of Luton to stand up and be united no matter which community you come from. This will be a family event, there will be speeches and the shops in Bury Park will remain open.

“We are in contact with the police and it may end up as a static demonstration, we’re not sure yet. On previous occasions the EDL have targeted mosques and committed Islamophobic attacks, we don’t want anything like this to happen again.”

Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism, added that the counter demonstration will be a “celebration of Luton”.

He said: “The alternative is to do nothing, it is much better to stand shoulder to shoulder. These people say they speak for Luton but I do not believe the majority agree with this. Our firm belief is that the EDL are a racist organisation which seeks to divide the people of Luton.”

The EDL has stated that their demo has been organised to “speak out against modern slavery and human trafficking”.

Beds Police has said that it has remained in touch with Luton Borough Council, as well as community and faith leaders. Assistant chief constable Nigel Trippett added:

“We know what a demonstration means to the community both socially and in terms of financial loss and of local concerns. The force recognises the right to peaceful protest and will ensure we have sufficient resources in place to facilitate the activities on the day. We would like to reassure residents of Bedfordshire that action taken by the force will be firm, fair, focused and effective.”

The demonstration is the EDL’s first event in Luton since its co-founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon left the organisation in October 2013, stating his fears over the “dangers of far-right extremism”. Yaxley-Lennon, from Luton, was convicted for mortgage fraud in January and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. He was released under licence in June but was recalled to prison in October.

Luton Borough Council leader Hazel Simmons has added her condemnation over the planned march. She said:

“I know that people in Luton will share my dismay that the English Defence League intends to hold another protest in Luton, and that this in turn has led to other organisations planning a counter-protest. While people do have the right to peaceful protest, my message is clear: the EDL is simply not welcome in Luton.”

She added: “I am conscious there will again be concern about potential impacts, and therefore the council is again working closely with Bedfordshire Police to ensure that disruption and inconvenience is kept to a minimum.”

Luton Herald & Post, 13 November 2014