Far right targets West Yorkshire with rallies

Tony Sutcliffe - concern about exposure as far right supporter Tony Sutcliffe is a spokesman for the British Freedom Party

If there were Olympic medals being handed out for political spin then the man who had just introduced himself to me as "Tony Smith" was clearly going for gold.

I was interviewing him against a back drop of largely drunken men waving banners and chanting foul-mouthed racist abuse at a rally organised by the far-right English Defence League in the West Yorkshire town of Keighley.

"Tony", who admitted he was giving me a false name, had a ready answer when I asked if their language and behaviour was acceptable for a Saturday afternoon political rally in a town where many British Asians live.

"That is really unfair," he told me.

"It's not about race. It's not about colour. It's about culture."

"Every time you get a big group of people together you'll get every side of the spectrum from mild and moderate to guys who are drunk who might hijack it to say something that it's not."

Identities revealed

The articulate 20-something is a spokesman for the tiny far-right British Freedom Party which is the political arm of the EDL.

Only about 150 had turned up from across the north of England but, even with this relatively small number, West Yorkshire Police took no chances.

Uniformed officers lined the route from the railway station to the small, open green between a church and the town's covered market where it had been agreed that the rally could take place.

More officers, including mounted police, ensured the event stayed where it was supposed to be.

Police The Keighley rally resulted in a number of arrests for alleged public disorder offences

Even then it took many more, including mounted police, to snuff out several violent attempts to break out onto nearby streets.

At least two arrests were made.

Many of the EDL supporters were also ordered to pull down their trade mark hoodies and ski masks which hid them from the watching police cameras.

"Tony Smith", the Bradford organiser of the EDL's political arm - the obscure British Freedom Party - eventually admitted his surname was Sutcliffe and that they were forced to protect their identities.

"I believe that's because people are scared to be labelled racist; to lose their jobs; to have their neighbours associate them with something that they're not.

"So in some instances the alcohol and the frustration take over. They can be labelled a demon, a Nazi, a racist - that's not the case."

Clearly, many take a different view.

Supporter sacked

On the same day as the Keighley rally it emerged that Leeds City Council had sacked one of its staff who had been exposed by a national newspaper as an EDL supporter and prominent contributor to far-right web pages.

Chris Knowles Chris Knowles told the BBC that he not broken any laws and his dismissal breached his civil liberties

Chris Knowles, who worked in the school governor support team in the children's services department, told the BBC that he not broken any laws and his dismissal breached his civil liberties.

In a statement Leeds City Council said that after an investigation it was found that his views were incompatible with the multicultural policies which every member of staff has to follow.

The EDL was spawned in Luton in 2009 but over the past two years West Yorkshire, with its high proportion of British Asian families, has been targeted for its marches and rallies.

A couple of weeks earlier I had filmed at a much bigger EDL in Dewsbury.

The movement's joint national leader Kevin Carroll addressed well over 500 supporters.

He too flatly denied the EDL is racist.

Police Commissioner elections

"We are concerned about our culture being overrun by Muslims," he told me in an interview for BBC Look North.

"It's not about skin colour. We just want the growing influence of the Muslim faith to stop. What is racist about that?"

The Dewsbury rally resulted in six arrests for alleged public disorder offences as EDL supporters tried to break out of the cordon.

It also led to a policing bill estimated at half a million pounds.

Kevin Carroll intends to capitalise on his mounting experiences of police operations.

He has announced he will stand as the British Freedom Party candidate in November's elections for the Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire.

His manifesto boasts he will put a stop to what he claims is the "two-tier" favouritism of Muslims by the authorities and an immediate reversal of cuts to police funding.

Len Tingle Article written by Len Tingle Len Tingle Political editor, Yorkshire

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I am very much against councillers firing members of legal political parties that they happen to disagree with. It smacks of authoritarianism and is anti democratic.

    If they dislike what the EDL have to say then debate it in the open; don't suppress dissent by making it clear that joining such a group = getting fired from a public sector job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The Bristol and Dewsbury EDL demos alone cost a total of £1 million to police. There are several more EDL demos planned for this year, so I'm guessing that by the end of the year the EDL will have cost us over £2 million, mainly because the organisers can't control their supporters. How can anyone take them and the British Freedom Party seriously?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I must say i don't really understand the EDL or what it stands for, as the media never really reports its views, just EDL=riot=trouble, or EDL hates Muslims.

    What i would say though is it.seems odd that the govt./media have spent 15 years telling us that 'Muslims are evil' ('War on Terror' etc.) and then let the coppers/dogs loose on the EDL when pick up that particular flag...

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Sacking people because of thier political affiliations or choices? Interesting... what would they do if an employee was a firm supporter of say, Sinn Fein and wrote for An Phoblacht?

    Also, I have another question... I think Yorkshire is getting carried away with this "if we were a seperate country we'd have had more medals than Switzerland" lark.. does it really need its own Political Editor?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Mr. Tingle writes of the low turn out for the rally yet admits that people are afraid of admitting support for fear of being labeled racist and even gives the example of Chris Knowles who has recently lost his job because he supports the EDL. He also makes Kev Carrol look pretty good what with his proposals to end the "2-yier justice system" and reverse the cut in funding for the police.


Comments 5 of 6



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