EDL fail to get into Tower Hamlets: PLUS VIDEO
The English Defence League failed to get into Tower Hamlets today as it went ahead with its protest in spite of the home secretary’s ban on marches.
Barricaded into an area just west of Aldgate Tube station by police, the far right group were outnumbered by hundreds of anti fascism protesters who had gathered along Whitechapel Road in a counter protest.
More than 3,000 officers were deployed to the area to prevent any confrontation between the groups.
Police said they were expecting up to 1,000 EDL members.
The far right group made its way from King’s Cross shortly after 1pm and arrived at Liverpool Street station at around 3pm.
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By 5.45pm there had been seven arrests for offences including affray, drunk and disorderly behaviour, common assault and possession of drugs.
A police officer was also assaulted, leading to one of the arrests.
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There were reports of EDL members clashing with police and throwing bottles in their cordoned off area and, at one point, the group’s leader Stephen Lennon, who calls himself Tommy Robinson, addressed his supporters.
Theresa May last week imposed a 30 day ban on marches in Tower Hamlets and four neighbouring boroughs after a campaign from community groups and politicians.
But some left wing groups spoke out against the ban today.
Campaigners Unite Against Fascism, which ignored calls from East End politicians and the police not to take to the streets, held a static demonstration on the corner of Vallance Road and Whitechapel Road from 11am.
Weyman Bennett, UAF secretary, said: “The strategy of ignoring them is allowing them to grow. I don’t believe bans stop fascism.”
While most of the crowds remained east of Whitechapel Road for the first part of the day, many groups made their way to Aldgate East to confront the EDL later on.
Maryam Khan, who came from Seven Kings to protest, said: “I’m here to oppose their message. It’s ignorant of them to consistently ask ethnic minorities to go home when the history of Britain is built on those countries.”
As the EDL arrived chants of “Get off our streets” were bellowed out by the crowd.
Around 200 East London Mosque members volunteered to act as stewards and try and keep people away from the areas closest to the EDL demonstration.
Shaffiur Rahman, executive director of the Islamic Forum of Europe who organised the volunteers, said: “We don’t want trouble, violence or our young people acting recklessly or being provoked by the EDL. We want to be exemplar citizens of Tower Hamlets.”
At the UAF stand, music was played and speeches given.
Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow and Joshua Peck, Labour group leader in Tower Hamlets, toured the streets around Bethnal Green and Whitechapel throughout the day to reassure East Enders.
Ms Ali said: “Community activists and families have been very vigilant about where their children are and it’s important our young people don’t get criminalised.
“I think the ban was the absolute right thing to do.”
Mr Peck said: “The police have been fantastic. They’ve had a major presence but business has been able to go about as normal.”
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement it “continues to appeal for people to remain calm”.
It went on: “A robust and proportionate policing plan is in place to facilitate peaceful protest, prevent disorder and minimise disruption on the local communities.
“We are committed to taking action against anyone who engages in criminal acts.”
Police opened up Whitechapel Road shortly after 5pm.