City ready for protests

Police plan for business as usual as protesters visit Birmingham this Saturday.

It’s business as usual in Birmingham this Saturday (11th October) as plans to ensure protesters visiting the city can air their views safely and securely are finalised.

Working alongside businesses, city council officials and protest leaders, local officers are once again ready to host demonstrators from the English Defence League and counter-protest group United Against Fascism.

The force has no power to ban protest groups from exercising their democratic right to express their opinions but has been planning for weeks to minimise disruption to those who live, work or plan to visit the city on the day.

Local businesses and attractions will be open as usual and litter-pickers will be on standby ready to roll-in once the protests are over to clean-up ready for a major cancer fundraiser in the square that evening. To minimise any delay to the Cancer Research event, a time limit has been imposed on both protest groups.

Extra traffic is expected across the city meaning that theatre and concert goers should leave plenty of travel time for their journeys should they encounter any jams. And as the venue with the second largest capacity on Broad Street, Birmingham police have once again asked Bar Risa to act as the central meeting point for protesters.

“West Midlands Police do not have any powers to stop any group drinking alcohol pre-protest so having one such venue makes absolute sense,” said Superintendent Rich Baker, from Birmingham Police.

“This has been a difficult and reluctant decision for the owners and we appreciate the support that Bar Risa is giving to this large-scale and complex policing operation and the contribution it is making to the wider city of Birmingham. Like last year, the bar will again be donating their profits from the two hours of trading to the Midlands Air Ambulance.”

From around 1pm, protesters will make their way from the bar to Centenary Square.

Councillor James McKay, Cabinet Member for Social Cohesion, Equalities and Community Safety at Birmingham City Council, said: “We have a choice when the EDL decides to visit Birmingham − we can engage and seek to influence the protest, or we can choose not to, and run the risk of things getting out of hand.

“The top priority of the council, the police, and other partners, will always be to keep Birmingham safe. That means talking to the EDL is vital, however much we would prefer them to stay away from Birmingham. Part of ensuring that the EDL protest has as little impact on the city as possible is agreeing somewhere for EDL supporters to gather, before the protest.

“Bar Risa has agreed to a request from West Midlands Police to host the visiting group. It is a difficult position for any business to be placed in, but for the second year running the bar’s management has played its part in handling a difficult situation, and I am grateful to Bar Risa for their help.”

On the day specialist protest liaison officers wearing their distinctive blue uniforms will act as the central link between the groups’ leaders and the senior officer overseeing the operation from West Midland Police’s high-tech events control suite.

For the past few weeks officers have been speaking to organisers, councillors, business leaders, community representatives and others who have helped shape the policing operation. “The number of protesters has not been finalised but our operation is flexible and we have the necessary available resources to manage any size turn-out,” added Supt Baker.