Letter: Selecting a route for the anti-racist march

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The Independent Online
Sir: As the Forward Ground Commander at Saturday's march and demonstration in south-east London, I would like to reply to the letter from Dan Rigby (19 October).

Negotiations with the organisers had been going on since June, when police made it perfectly clear that because of the serious disturbances that had occurred in Welling on 8 May, when a demonstration had passed the BNP headquarters, we would not agree to a similar route. Despite several further meetings, the march organisers refused to negotiate an alternative, so on 11 October a letter from the commissioner was served on them prescribing the route. This took the march along Upper Wickham Lane and then left into Lodge Hill; it was at this junction where the worst of the violence took place.

Because all roads south of this route lead eventually to the bookshop, and in view of the organisers' declared aim to attack the HQ of the BNP, metal barriers, police vehicles and officers were put in place to prevent access.

At the point where the trouble flared, however, the roads are too wide to use barriers safely and, as the television cameras clearly showed, I initially had two lines of police officers in normal helmets outlining the edge of the route the march was to follow. It was only when the first sticks and then stones came towards us that I replaced those officers with others in full riot gear, and brought in the Mounted Branch as support.

At no time was a barrier or cordon placed across Lodge Hill. The blockage referred to was caused by some of the more peaceful members of the march turning round and coming back down Lodge Hill into the junction. It is perfectly true that some stewards were trying to restore calm, and for a while were successful, but they were quite unable to control the more violent sections of the crowd, some of whom, marching under the banner of anti-racism, were responsible for the sickening attack on PC Les Turner, simply because he is black.

I am convinced that had the march been allowed to follow the route originally requested by the organisers, the resulting damage, injury and disruption would have been far worse than that which unfortunately occurred.

Yours faithfully,

H. N. L. BLENKIN

Commander (Operations)

Metropolitan Police Service

London, SE9

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