Cost of policing EDL protests a 'considerable concern'

The Walsall protest
Image caption Protests took place in Walsall town centre in September

The cost of policing English Defence League (EDL) demonstrations is causing "considerable concern", West Midland Police's commissioner has said.

Bob Jones spoke as the force prepared for the EDL's "extremely unwelcome" protest in Birmingham on Saturday.

The BBC has learned through a Freedom of Information request that policing EDL marches in England has cost more than £10m over four years.

The EDL's leader said his members were entitled to protest freely.

Tommy Robinson said: "We are not committing terrorism, all we are doing is protesting and voicing our concerns. There is no price you can put on democracy."

The EDL, which was founded in 2009, protests across the UK against "radical Islam".

West Midlands Police has spent more than £500,000 on multiple protests, which Mr Jones said was putting a strain on the force's budget.

Dozens arrested

"We find it grossly unhelpful that this group is coming to demonstrate here again. They are extremely unwelcome and it is likely to blow a very significant hole in the police budget," Mr Jones said.

"There will be over 1,000 officers mobilised and it's likely to be one of the largest and most expensive operations we mount this century.

"We've had significant reductions in our budget and policing these demonstrations is a significant cost and strain on our already stretched budgets," he said.

The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests to 37 police forces in England and received 17 responses.

The remaining forces said they did not have to police any EDL demonstrations or could not provide a cost.

Bedfordshire Police recorded the highest cost of £2,447,172, followed by West Yorkshire Police at £1,911,088. This included the cost of officers' overtime and of mutual aid - borrowing officers from other forces.

Some demonstrations have attracted thousands of EDL protesters and hundreds of counter-protesters, resulting in dozens of arrests.

'Significantly fined'

Khalid Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said he wanted to see "significant" fines imposed on protesters who broke the law during demonstrations.

"It is not acceptable that people who cause havoc in a community can get away with a slap of the wrist," he said.

"This will help police forces to deal with the significant costs of violence and disorder," he added.

The Home Office can provide financial help to police forces if they face unexpected or exceptional costs resulting from demonstrations that would otherwise threaten their financial stability.

But some groups are more concerned about the "non-financial" impact of the group and there have been calls by some for the EDL to be banned.

Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, which promotes community cohesion, said the demonstrations caused a significant impact.

"The EDL has been going repeatedly into communities for over three years now. There is long-term damage by their protests and we can't put a cost on this damage.

"We know there is a corrosive impact on communities, it creates tensions and anti-Muslim prejudice in areas. I think enough is enough. I think a banning order is necessary with the EDL," he said.

'Concerns and anger'

Mr Robinson defended his group's demonstrations, saying: "We are giving people a platform to vent their concerns and anger through peaceful protests.

"Protesting is what you do in a democracy. We are not blowing things up or planting bombs," he added.

Sunny Hundal, editor of the political blog Liberal Conspiracy, said the group should be allowed to demonstrate.

"It's dangerous to call for the banning of a group in a democracy unless you can prove they are causing violence," he said.

"I do not agree with the EDL'S views but they should be allowed the right to protest if they want to, as long as it is peaceful."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The EDL is not a proscribed terrorist organisation and it is government policy not to comment on whether a group is under consideration for proscription."

For more on this story, listen to the BBC Asian Network on 19 July at 13:00 and 17:00 BST.

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