Officers were pelted with bricks,rocks, bottles, smoke bombs and placards for 90 minutes as a small group of protesters tried to break through their lines to reach the bookshop headquarters of the extreme right-wing British National Party in Welling, Kent.
The police responded with repeated batoncharges, and charges by officers on horseback at the demonstrators, some of whom were hiding their identities with scarves and balaclavas. Hand-to-hand fighting spilled into neat suburban gardens, leaving residents terrified. At one stage, police said, demonstrators pulled down the wall of a cemetery, using its bricks as ammunition.
Worse violence was avoided when stewards relieved one of the protesters of a bag containing six petrol bombs. Last night the London Ambulance Service said 74 people had been taken to hospital; one police officer was reported to be in a 'very serious' condition, paralysed from the neck down. There were numerous arrests in the most serious civil disorder in the capital since the poll tax riots of 1990.
The march, co-ordinated by the Anti-Nazi League and Youth Against Racism in Europe, had been banned from its planned route directly past the BNP bookshop by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Condon, who last night angrily accused the organisers of double standards.
'The hypocrisy of the organisers knowsno bounds. They must have known and anticipated exactly what happened today and they provided the opportunity for it to happen,' said Mr Condon. 'Again in London we have seen a cowardly mob of extremists with no intention of demonstrating for a cause, turn up to cause disorder, violence and damage.
'The organisers knew exactly the group who were being drawn to the occasion. They allowed them to take part in their march, they saw exactly what was happening and when it was happening.'
The organisers, however, countered that the police had over-reacted. Julie Waterson, national Anti-Nazi League organiser and chief steward of the march, said she had been clubbed over the head with a police truncheon. She was taken to hospital and received seven stitches.
Ms Waterson said she had been negotiatingwith police to bring matters under control when they charged and she was struck around the head.
'The police were out of control. What did they expect? People were tremendously angry. The police should have handled it less aggressively. This is no way to negotiate, by hitting the chief steward round the head with a truncheon,' she said.
The march was believed to be the biggest demonstration against racism since the 1970s. Its aim was to demand the closure of the headquarters of the British National Party, which recently won its first council seat, in the London borough of Tower Hamlets.
Neo-Nazis, Sunday ReviewReuse content