EDL and UAF stage rival protests in Luton
- 5 February 2011
- From the section Beds, Herts & Bucks
Protests by the English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) in Luton have ended without major incident amid a huge police presence.
About 1,500 EDL supporters and 1,000 UAF protesters were involved in the protests. There were seven arrests.
After the demonstrations ended police escorted the protesters back to their buses following marches and speeches in the town centre.
Officers from 27 forces were brought in, costing £800,000, police said.
Officers said the arrests were for weapons offences and assault.
Both groups took part in a one-mile (1.6km) march earlier. The EDL supporters marched from High Town Road to St Georges Square, while the UAF group marched between Bury Park Road and Market Hill.
Speeches were given in both squares, which are about half a mile apart, from about 1345 GMT.
Shortly after 1500 GMT, St George's Square was cleared and police said officers were escorting EDL supporters out of the town.
At 1600 GMT, police said a number of protesters remained in the Castle Street, Bury Park and Dunstable Road, without any disturbances.
Earlier, UAF supporters, some of whom shouted "smash the EDL", listened to a punk band and heard speakers condemn the EDL event.
Dozens of officers wearing riot gear and six police horses formed a cordon across George Street to prevent a small group breaking away towards the EDL gathering.
Before the protest began, 150 UAF demonstrators linked hands at the railway station to prevent EDL supporters entering the town.
The EDL group chanted "Muslim bombers off our streets" and held banners aloft, some of which read "No more mosques".
Police said EDL leader Stephen Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson, was caught in a crush in a crowd leading to St George's Square.
He was unhurt and later gave a speech to supporters from across the UK, with banners for Scotland, Wales, London, Yorkshire, Newcastle, Milton Keynes and East Anglia in the crowd.
He told the crowd: "There are no racial tensions in Luton, just religious tensions."
Speaking at the UAF counter-rally, Labour MEP Richard Howitt said: "The message to the EDL is clear: This is not your home, you are not welcome here."
East of England Ambulance Service forward incident officer Dave Fountain, who co-ordinated the medical response, said 19 people were treated for minor injuries, including six who went to hospital.
Roads between George Street and Stuart Street were closed to traffic from 0700 GMT.
Severe traffic disruption was expected in High Town Road, Midland Road, Mill Street and the bottom of New Bedford Road for most of the day.
Pubs and off-licences stopped serving alcohol at noon until the protests finished, Bedfordshire Police said.
Ch Supt Mike Colbourne, Luton's Divisional Commander, said: "The policing operation has been in the planning for weeks and the professionalism of the officers was borne out today. We were assisted by 27 forces and it's a great example of how forces can work together in difficult circumstances."
There was a heavy police presence on the roads leading from the M1 towards Luton town centre, including a van recording the registration plates of vehicles leaving the motorway.