At least 58 people were arrested in London yesterday after anti-fascist demonstrators clashed with British National Party members outside the Houses of Parliament. The far-right group's march was one of around 60 planned across the country yesterday to mark the death of Drummer Lee Rigby, murdered in Woolwich last month.
At least one BNP member was injured in fighting between the two groups, who were involved in a lengthy stand-off after Whitehall was choked by protesters determined to prevent BNP leader Nick Griffin and his supporters from carrying out their planned march to the Cenotaph.
Police officers ordered the group of around 300 protesters, linked to Unite Against Fascism (UAF), to move away and continue their protest further up the street but, after their demands were refused, officers moved in to make arrests.
Despite most of the arrests being from among their ranks, UAF said it was pleased to have prevented the BNP's march and called it a "great victory". A large group of UAF supporters turned up ahead of the planned start of the BNP's demonstration yesterday afternoon to confront the far-right party.
Police formed cordons to keep the two groups apart and violence was limited to one scuffle, in which BNP member Clifford Le May was hurt. "I've put my best suit on today and come out for a peaceful demonstration and this is what's happened. And to think they call us thugs," he said.
Nick Griffin turned up around two hours later and, addressing reporters, said his supporters had come out to protest peacefully and to oppose any Islamic presence in Britain. And he claimed that the murder of Drummer Rigby would not be an isolated incident.
"I believe that by being here we have at least taken a step to taking the debate to where it needs to be. Not about whether the terrible murder of Lee Rigby was isolated, something which will never happen again. We're pointing out that it will happen again and again and again until the West disengages with Islam and they leave our country."
Thomas Smith, a 20-year-old UAF supporter from Luton, Bedfordshire, said that he had come to oppose groups which sought to divide his community. "Every day I go to town and people are getting on fine," he said, adding that tensions are increased by groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and BNP. The EDL also held a series of demonstrations all over the country. There were gatherings in Manchester, Luton and Leeds.
The fighting came despite calls for peace from police and the family of Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death in what police are treating as a terrorist attack. The BNP had planned to march from Woolwich Barracks, south-east London, but were banned from doing so by Scotland Yard, amid community fears that their presence could prompt disorder.
The Metropolitan Police said that the UAF faction numbered around 300 people and the BNP group around 150.