David Freezer and Mark Shields
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
People in Norwich have been praised for the way they responded and reacted to the controversial English Defence League march.
The centre of Norwich came to a standstill on Saturday as nearly 2,000 people gathered at the front of City Hall to protest.
A crowd of 1,500 people from community, faith and political groups took to the streets under the collective banner of We Are Norwich in protest at the EDL’s decision to march through the city, setting off from Chapelfield Gardens.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, around 250 EDL supporters arrived in buses and trains at Norwich railway station before gathering in Castle Gardens to make their way to City Hall, where they were met with loud boos and whistles by We Are Norwich supporters.
Norwich City Council leader Brenda Arthur praised the reaction from the people of the city, and the police for ensuring a peaceful day.
She said: “It was great that so many people turned out to show the EDL that it is not welcome in our city.
“We are delighted Norwich remained open for business and that the demonstrations passed off peacefully. The police did an excellent job.”
Norwich’s policing commander, Superintendent Paul Sanford, said he was pleased overall with the major police operation which kept the peace on Saturday, which featured around 400 officers from 11 constabularies.
Police yesterday charged three men following disturbances sparked by the marches.
Supt Sanford said: “I’m really pleased with the outcome and I’m really proud of my officers for dealing so well with a situation that was really challenging at times.
“We had two groups who vociferously wanted to make their point and we allowed them to do so with only a few outbreaks of disturbance.
“I would like to thank the public for being so patient, as were businesses, and I’m sorry for any disruption they had to cope with.
“There were big crowds that formed outside of the two protest groups who were just interested to see what was happening, larger than we expected there to be, but I’m pleased that remained peaceful as well.
“Every last officer played an important part in the operation and the mounted section on Gaol Hill in particular were fantastic in controlling the crowds.”
The day was punctuated occasionally by minor scuffles, with police delaying the arrival of the EDL march group by nearly an hour following a disturbance on Castle Meadow.
They finally set off on a slow march at 1.30pm and got to City Hall just before 2pm, where speaker Glen Saffer urged the crowd to remain calm and ensure a peaceful protest.
The spectacle was watched by hundreds of onlookers going about their normal Saturday-afternoon shopping. Chants of “EDL go home” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” could be heard across the heavily-policed neutral zone in front of City Hall, to which Mr Saffer replied: “We will never surrender”.
The EDL took the decision to march in Norwich in protest at Norwich City Council’s decision to ban Rev Alan Clifford, from the Norwich Reformed Church from his stall in Hayhill, for allegedly publishing anti-Islamic leaflets.
Julia Angelcynn, who had been involved with Rev Clifford’s stall in Hayhill, referred to City Hall as “the Kremlin” in her address to the crowd.
She added: “The people in this building behind me seem very anti-freedom of speech.”
At 2.30pm, and to a chorus of boos, whistles and waves, the EDL marchers were escorted by police back to waiting buses and trains at Norwich station.
With crowds having formed along Gaol Hill, the horses of the mounted division from Essex Constabulary were used to ensure no further trouble could break out.
The EDL supporters were allowed to disperse down Prince of Wales Road, but a continued police presence separated the EDL and We Are Norwich groups.
A final altercation outside the Natwest Bank in Prince of Wales Road brought 20 officers sprinting to intervene.
Nick O’Brien, secretary of We Are Norwich, said he was delighted with the group’s response to the EDL.
“We are Norwich said that we would prevent the EDL getting to the steps of City Hall and the war memorial – we did.
“We said that we would build a massive and broad coalition to oppose them – we did.
“We said that we would be peaceful, family-friendly but loud and determined – we were.”
He said the formation of We Are Norwich was a “beacon of light and hope” for positive action, and pledged the group would continue to oppose the EDL.
“We Are Norwich will stay together for as long as we are needed. The EDL will never be welcome here.”
CLARIFICATION: Previous mentions of The Steadfast Trust in this article have been removed after the charity made it clear that Julia Angelcynn no longer has any association with them and only worked with the charity as a volunteer for a short time.