Home Secretary to rule on right-wing march ban

Dave Higgens,Pa
Wednesday 18 August 2010 10:10 BST

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Home Secretary Theresa May will be asked to authorise a blanket ban on marches in a city on the day of a planned protest by a right-wing campaign group.

The English Defence League (EDL) intends to demonstrate in Bradford on Saturday August 28 and Unite Against Fascism has planned a protest in the city on the same day.

The decision by Bradford Council to seek a marching ban follows a formal request by West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettison last night.

Sir Norman said he was taking the action after considering the "understandable concerns of the community".

The move follows a high-profile campaign in the city to stop the EDL march, with some commentators saying they fear it could provoke a violent reaction to rival the riots which shook the city nine years ago.

Both the chief constable and the council have stressed a ban on marching would not stop either group holding a static protest.

Today, Bradford Council chief executive Tony Reeves said: "I have received a letter from the chief constable asking the council to seek an order prohibiting the holding of any public procession in Bradford over the bank holiday weekend, August 28 to 30.

"We have considered the chief constable's views carefully and are writing to the Home Secretary to seek her permission to impose such an order.

"If the Home Secretary gives her permission for the council to impose an order prohibiting the holding of any public procession in Bradford, it would not prevent any static demonstration taking place, which would still be allowed as we have no legal powers to prevent static demonstrations.

"The police and the council are therefore continuing to work closely together to plan for and manage any processions or static demonstrations which could still take place in Bradford over the Bank Holiday weekend, August 28 to 30."

In a statement last night, Sir Norman said: "Having carefully considered all the issues arising from any planned or unplanned march by protesters in Bradford on August 28, including the understandable concerns of the community, I have decided to apply to Bradford Council for an order prohibiting the holding of a public procession in Bradford on that day.

"We must, however, be clear in the distinction between the application for a ban to march, and the fundamental right to hold a static protest.

"If the Home Secretary agrees to a ban, it does not prevent static, visible, demonstrations taking place. But I believe that this would be less disruptive to residents of Bradford, and would enable the force to better manage the operation.

"We will continue to try to talk to all those who plan to demonstrate in Bradford and advise anyone intent on causing trouble to stay away."

The chief said policing the protest would be a "complex operation".

"I ask the people of Bradford to support the policing operation and avoid confrontation on the day.

"Whatever the outcome of the application for a ban, the police's role on the day will be to enable any peaceful protest to take place but we will not tolerate damage to the city, or violence."

The move to ban marching has been welcomed by the Hope Not Hate group, which has led the campaign against the EDL march.

Co-ordinator Nick Lowles said that although there was a possibility the EDL might still demonstrate in the city centre, the ban would prevent demonstrators marching down Manchester Road, which is in a predominantly Muslim area of Bradford.

A 10,000-signature petition opposing the EDL march was handed in to the Home Office earlier this month.

Mr Lowles said: "Some people said that a petition was fruitless but we have proved that, when mobilised, ordinary people can exert pressure on the authorities.

"While the EDL threat hasn't completely gone away, our campaign has contributed to the racists being kept away from Muslim communities in Bradford."

The EDL has staged a series of protests in cities across the UK in the last 18 months, with some erupting into violence and arrests.

Last month, the West Midlands town of Dudley saw clashes between police and protesters at an EDL demonstration for the second time this year.

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