Letter: Why violence marred the march against the BNP

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The Independent Online
Sir: Having travelled on one of 27 coaches from Manchester to Saturday's Unity demonstration in south-east London, I am saddened that the events reported in the media bear little relation to what I witnessed.

The initial rally at Winns Common was massive and good humoured. People of all ages and political persuasions, black and white, were united in the demand that, after four racist murders in the area, the British National Party headquarters should be closed down.

Several factors contributed to the subsequent violence. The decision by the police to change the organisers' route just five days before the march, despite being notified of it three months in advance, was provocative. What made the clashes inevitable was the police blockade of Lodge Hill, which made it impossible to follow even the police route. With tens of thousands of people marching, those at the front were shunted straight into the police lines that blocked all routes: people literally had nowhere to go.

What followed were terrifying, ferocious and indiscriminate baton charges by the police. The result was panic, and a situation where stewarding was impossible. When the chief steward, who was doing her best to calm things down and get the police route re- opened, was batoned round the head, it became apparent that the police were not interested in defusing the situation.

Saturday's march should have been remembered for the fact that 40,000 people gathered to say no to racism and demand the closure of an organising centre for racist violence. The actions of the police in blocking all routes and attacking demonstrators means this is unlikely. Instead, we are forced to debate the causes of the clashes, when it seems obvious tht the real source of violence in the area is the BNP bunker on Upper Wickham Lane.

Yours faithfully,

DAN RIGBY

Manchester

18 October

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