Passengers travelling to the Paralympics face major disruption today after staff at King’s Cross in London vowed to walk out in protest at supporters of the far-right English Defence League using the station as a rallying point for a demonstration in the north of the capital.
Staff members have complained that they faced abuse at the hands of the EDL as they headed to a similar protest last year. A spokesman for the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) said staff would take the step – in a bid to close the Underground station - in order to protect themselves and the public.
“Staff will walk away from work on the grounds of safety, if nothing else,” said an RMT spokesman yesterday. He added: “we are talking about an organisation which has a track record of violence and our staff have reported problems in the past.”
RMT members have privately talked about shutting the station down. However, their bosses at Transport for London insisted yesterday that the station would remain open and said that their talks with the Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police indicated no immediate danger to staff or to the public.
Police sought to ban last year’s march, which saw clashes between the EDL and their opponents, and staff at King’s Cross closed the entrance to the tube for around half an hour.
Staff are understood to be unhappy with the approach to last year’s EDL demonstration in Walthamstow. Some said they have decided to take action themselves to stop the group travelling from the station to Blackhorse Road tube station in north London, where this year’s march is due to start.
Some of those involved are also believed to be ideologically opposed to the EDL and will seek to block their march if possible. Plans seen by the Independent indicate that some staff at King’s Cross station are planning to “organise halting [the marchers] getting on to the system in the first place”.
The plans continue: “The obvious point of exit is Blackhorse Road. We need to close this station down (as opposed to just withdrawing to places of safety) and then Walthamstow when the risk is transferred.
“We mustn’t do this too early because we’ll only hinder the counter demonstration that’s assembling at Walthamstow at 11. In other words, we close Blackhorse Road and Walthamstow stations at the point when the risk actually presents itself.
“We need to draft up a simple pro forma on refusal to work on the grounds of health and safety on account of the serious and imminent risk presented by the EDL to staff and passengers.
In an email, organisers said they planned to “refuse to work, close the station and insist that the service [does not stop there] as a result.”
They said they expected around 500 EDL members to attend the demonstration and anti-EDL groups have vowed to hold counter demonstrations.
A TfL spokesperson said: “The safety of our staff and customers is our first priority. We have been working closely with the British Transport Police and Metropolitan Police and there is no known threat to our staff or our customers. We have no plans to close either King’s Cross or Blackhorse Road stations.”
EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon did not respond to requests for comment. However, the group has repeatedly insisted that it is non-violent but, since it does not have a formal membership structure, cannot control every member of a march.