Luton braced for violence in far-right's 'homecoming' march

It is being billed as a triumphant homecoming. Yet Luton, the designated home town of the far-right English Defence League, doesn't see it quite like that. With an estimated 12,000 EDL supporters and their opponents heading to Bedfordshire for a mass protest march tomorrow, police in the town are mounting their largest operation to try to prevent violence.

The EDL has invited its friends from the Dutch Defence League, and other far-right groups from France and Germany are also expected to march under the banner "No Surrender to Militant Islam". Counter-protests are being planned by Unite Against Fascism, and some 1,500 police officers will attempt to keep the sides apart. Bedfordshire Police warned: "The protests mean that there will be disruption to normal life in Luton on Saturday."

Luton is where the EDL was founded and the march is being promoted with the slogan "Back to Where It All Began". It was another homecoming march, by the Royal Anglian Regiment almost two years ago, that led to the group being set up in response to the actions of a small group of extremist Muslims, who had greeted the soldiers with placards reading "Butchers of Basra" and "Anglian soldiers go to hell".

Extremist politics and religious tension were added to Luton's claims to fame, alongside its international airport, the Vauxhall car factory and the town's links to the trade of millinery. That last tradition inspired the nickname of Luton Town Football Club, the Hatters, an institution that is suffering as much as any from the local rise of the EDL.

The far-right group has recruited heavily among football fans. The anti-racist group Searchlight has investigated links between the Luton division of the EDL and the MIGs (Men in Gear), a gang of Luton hooligans. Stephen Lennon, the founder of the EDL and the owner of a Luton sunbed shop, prefers to adopt the pseudonym of Tommy Robinson, the name of a notorious Luton hooligan and author of MIG Crew.

Luton Town have had enough difficulties in recent years. Once a top flight English team, they now find themselves outside the Football League. Their next fixture, against Gloucester City takes place this evening at the club's home at Kenilworth Road in the Bury Park district, which has a large community of Pakistani Muslims.

The club would have preferred to stage the game tomorrow but has been forced to reschedule the kick-off to distance it from the march. Gary Sweet, the managing director, has been deeply concerned by the attempts of the EDL to align the football club with its cause. "We are all very disappointed that the EDL has decided to target football and particularly Luton Town to recruit members. We would like to think that our supporters are a bit above that."

Mr Sweet also said that Luton Town was "disgusted about" the EDL's use of a customised version of the club crest in some of its promotional material. Luton Town has a proud record in overcoming prejudice within football and during the 1980s provided a platform for some of England's outstanding young black players, such as Ricky Hill and Brian Stein.

Meanwhile Mr Lennon summons his followers to Luton tomorrow. The news that Luton resident Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly was behind the Stockholm car bombing in December only strengthened his hand.

"This is the heart of militant Islam," he told a Newsnight reporter last week, posing in a bullet-proof vest which he claimed he needed for protection. Police will tomorrow attempt to ensure that others do not feel similarly at risk.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all