I went to Bolton yesterday to support Green Party colleagues and Bolton against Racism oppose the EDL. Anyone relying on reports in the mainstream media (including the BBC) is likely to have a very misleading view of what was going on. I must also confess that during the time I was there it was difficult to tell what was going on, and I left before the end; this is very much a personal account. I did witness some very heavy-handed policing towards the anti-fascist demonstrators. I notice the Police were claiming that 2 injuries were caused by protesters, however I saw the two injured people being escorted away and it didn't look like that to me. Surely after the G20 the media should be a bit more wary of Police accounts.
I was intentionally going to support Bolton against Racism (BAR), and to be part of a dignified protest. I am please to say that there was a good number of BAR people there, many in a community choir. A number of local MPs of various Parties had also called on people to go and oppose the EDL (although I didn't see any of said MPs while I was there). I regret that some elements on the UAF side were less than dignified; there were some people there who would have welcomed a fight. The EDL are a rag-tag army of racist thugs and it takes a degree of skill to cede any moral high ground to them, so that is disappointing.
Having said that, the Police seemed at best confused about how to deal with the situation and looked like they were deliberately winding up the pressure in front of what I consider was basically a peaceful demonstration . Perhaps it was an opportunity to show off all their nice new riot gear, and their menagerie of animals. First they showed us the dogs, bristling and snarling, then the horses; I would not have been surprised if elephants had followed. And the arrest of UAF's Weyman Bennett was ridiculous.
In one bizarre sequence our group were moved further and further back by a solid cordon of Police to make a wide empty space. I surmised that this was the space the EDL were coming though. But no, half an hour later, the Police had all moved on somewhere else (mainly to kettle the core of the demonstration) and we were able to mill around again. They seemed to be making it up as they went along.
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Police tactics before the demo were also disturbing. Local Green candidate Alan Johnson (definitely not to be confused with the Home Secretary of the same name) informed me that whilst leafleting for the anti-EDL demo at a local mosque he had see police there advising Muslims not to attend. Alan had even felt in danger of arrest himself for leafleting the mosque. So members of Bolton community are being advised to keep out of their town centre to make way for a bunch of racists from outside!. No wonder feelings run high.
The most disconcerting moment for me was my return to the station. Bradshawgate was crawling with EDL (and noticeably fewer Police...), who were hitting the local bars. I think there were more of them there than in their section of the central square. I was amused to see a group of them being frisked by a black bouncer, but apart from that it was a creepy feeling. I knew what these people had done in Stoke; I feared for Bolton later that day.
The EDL demonstration, which had nothing to do with Bolton, should not have been allowed to happen in the first place. This organisation is clearly out to make trouble and divide communities. The Government have banned Islam4UK from marches, so why are the EDL exempt? Ant-fascist groups, whilst rightly standing up to racism need to beware of giving ammunition to the media and the authorities. As for the policing, there needs to be a proper investigation as to how that was conducted, both before and during the demonstration.
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