Far right targets West Yorkshire with rallies

Len Tingle
Political editor, Yorkshire

Image caption,
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.

Image caption,
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.

Image caption,
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.