First ever English Defence League march in Norwich today
Police are encouraging businesses and shoppers to treat today as business as usual, ahead of the first ever English Defence League march in the city this afternoon.
The EDL is holding its first protest in the city, while a counter demonstration organised by a group called We are Norwich, is also taking place, sparking a big police operation.
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has branded the EDL as “hate-merchants”, ahead of the march, which will bring parts of the city to a standstill.
Castle Meadow, Bethel Street, Chantry Road and Theatre Street will all shut at various points in the afternoon.
Bethel Street, by the police station, and St Peters Street, outside City Hall, will close from 6am to 5pm, while Gaol Hill, Exchange Street and Bedford Street will shut from 1pm to 4pm.
The EDL is holding the march to protest at Norwich City Council banning a preacher from a stall at Hay Hill for promoting “hate-motivated” leaflets.
EDL supporters will gather at Castle Gardens at 12.45pm and start their march at 1pm.
They will head along Castle Meadow, down Opie Street, and Bedford Street, before turning left down Exchange Street to City Hall.
A message from EDL organisers sent to supporters called for no racially-motivated banners, face coverings, or racist chants.
Organisers also told supporters to not bring “weapons, smoke canisters, fireworks or marbles”.
Those in the counter demonstration will meet at 11am in Chapelfield Gardens for music and speeches.
They will head down Theatre Street, turn left at Debenhams and along Haymarket, before turning left at Starbucks towards City Hall.
Memorial Gardens and City Hall will be fenced off.
Norwich district commander, Supt Paul Sanford, said: “Today’s operation is about facilitating people’s right to peaceful protest, while maintaining minimal disruption for the people of Norwich.
“Whilst we do not have any information to suggest that there will be any disorder, should any individuals behave in a criminal or anti-social manner, we will take swift action to deal with any such behaviour.
“Our message to anyone intent on causing trouble is clear and unequivocal, “don’t come to the city centre”. At similar protests elsewhere in the country, some individuals sought to attach themselves to both the main protest group and other groups who came to stage a counter demonstration.
“They wanted to exploit the protest by behaving in a criminal or anti-social manner. Anyone planning a repeat of that should be in no doubt that they will be identified by Norfolk Constabulary and prosecuted.
“The police will also have significant back-up to ensure a fast, efficient and robust reaction where required. Our operation is supported by colleagues from other forces as well as specialist units and the Special Constabulary.
“There will also be additional officers in Norwich to ensure that our response to other, non-protest related incidents in the city and Norfolk as a whole is at the usual high standard our communities expect.”
Anyone who wishes to receive regular updates from the police throughout the day can follow @NorfolkPolice or #norwichprotest on Twitter or register to a free text service on Police Direct by texting the word NORFOLK to 66101 (standard message rates apply).
Supt Sanford added: “We have done a lot of work over the past couple of weeks to ensure we have kept local residents and businesses informed of the plans for today.
“Our message is clear that wherever possible, we want to maintain business as usual and keep disruption in the city to a minimum.”
The arrival of the EDL has provoked strong opposition from trade unions and politicians.
Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, said ahead of the march: “I do not want to see the EDL on parade in our city. I believe the EDL to be disreputable, divisive, harmful, and violent.
“Hate-merchants like these have no place in Norwich or anywhere in Britain.
“I am proud of this country’s legal freedoms and rights to take part in peaceful protest, but do not want to see them abused, and Norwich dragged down, this weekend.”