The EDL visited Walsall on Saturday, with predictable consequences.
Trouble broke out during speeches by EDL leaders, including a tirade by the group’s leader Tommy Robinson against other right-wing groups the National Front and British National Party. Around 400 EDL members attended the protest, although many shunned the speeches in favour of staying in the adjacent bars that remained open during the event, which took place in Leicester Street. Problems then occurred as a group of the protestors began hurling missiles, many of which sailed over police lines and towards onlookers.
Meanwhile, up to 600 counter-demonstrators attended a rally by the multi-faith We Are Walsall group in Gallery Square at the other side of the town centre. They heard a message from the Bishop of Wolverhampton, Clive Gregory, offering support for the event and expressing the Church of England’s commitment to unity and opposition to “the racially divisive message of the EDL.” Moses White, an activist in the local Jamaican community, echoed the Bishop’s message “I have been here fifty years with no trouble. This is Walsall – we get on.” he told the crowd.
A small number of local Asian youths were later detained while attempting to confront the EDL demonstrators while a larger group of around 70 were later dispersed after missiles were throw at coaches taking the EDL away from the town.
Chief Superintendent Dave Sturman, commander for Walsall and in charge of the day’s operation, said: “The majority of people attending the two demonstrations were peaceful and law abiding. Arrests were made where necessary and further enquiries will be made to determine if any other offences were committed. That said, this has generally been a successful operation, due in no small part to the excellent work between police, our partner agencies and representatives of our communities.”
Mr Ram Mehmi, President of the Shri Guru Ravidass Cultural Association in Darlaston, and a member of Walsall Independent Advisory Group, was involved in viewing the police operation throughout the day. He said: “I have been in a position to see the full operation as it played out and have been impressed by all I have seen. Police were very well organised and the tactical options they used in difficult circumstances went well to make sure that the safety of the public was secure.”
While both events took place the town centre was able to carry on more or less as normal, with police, council officials and transport staff working together to minimise inconvenience and shoppers tending to either ignore the protestors or watch them with bemusement. Most businesses were open although trade was reckoned to be slightly down on what is normally the busiest day of the week. “There’s fault on both sides,” one local Asian said. “We don’t want the EDL here but I don’t recognise most of the Asian lads either. They’ve come to cause trouble as well.” The owner of the News & Booze off-licence near to the site of the EDL protest told us, “I’m quieter than usual, but that’s not the point. I’ve spent the whole day worried who might be coming into my shop next.”
The EDL came to Walsall, many of them got drunk and some caused problems. Some local youths also took the opportunity to cause trouble. How any of this helped the elderly lady I spoke to who was unable to get home because the bus station was closed and no taxis available, or any of the other local people who had their day disrupted, no-one could answer.