I have no issues with the Police, and have always been as compliant as possible during demonstrations as I recognise the job they are trying to carry out. Over the last few years I have seen some questionable methods, and some borderline criminal activities by individual police officers. However, in the main, I work on the premise that they generally work for the benefit of the public, and the public’s safety. Yesterday, in Preston, on occasions they were going beyond what was necessary.
As the EDL gathered outside the 2 pubs ready to march to the demonstration point, the Police prescence was measured and sensible. A lot of the crowd control was left to the marshals and despite the throwing of a few smoke bombs, and “bangers”, which seem to be de rigeur these days for the EDL – there was little police reaction. Common sense was prevailing.
The EDL gathered in the enclosed area by the cenotaph, and it became evident that they had underestimated the numbers, and some tension was growing. Outside of the EDL enclosure there were a collection of observers – mainly local shoppers – possibly some who were against the EDL. There were also some EDL late-arrivers. The Police maintained the ranks, and those of us with Press passes were allowed to wander more freely and take photographs – there was no danger here.
After about twenty minutes there were incidences of beer cans being thrown by the EDL at the local observers, as well as a smoke bomb. There was also some agitation by the EDL – presumably as a result of some provocation from the watching crowd. The Police took this as their signal to push everyone who was not in the EDL enclosure backwards. This started off as a few yards, for our safety – then we were funnelled into Friargate – a narrow side street. We were then told we were going a few yards down the street. Police horses then arrived to push the crowd further back – the crowd was local shoppers, interested observers, and stray EDL. There was no implication whatsoever of any improper activities. As the crowd became more confused about the objectives, and the reasons why, the Police became more agitated and created more unnecessary friction with the public and were somewhat heavy-handed. This was all on the premise of being for our safety – there was more danger of being trampled on by a horse than a smoke bomb from the EDL. This continued for over twenty minutes.
By the time I managed to get back to the site of the EDL demonstration it was coming to a close, and the Police had held back everyone from entering including the Press.
As the EDL began to disperse, which seemed very peaceful apart from exuberant chanting I was surprised to see more Police operational units being deployed, mounted Police officers charging off down Fishergate, as well as a number of vans containing dogs. The numbers of EDL were relatively small – most were either on the coaches or in the local pubs. When the EDL were escorted from the pub to the buses there seemed to be a lot of disquiet as they were forcibly made to exit the pub.
Whilst the EDL do not have a good track record of peaceful demonstrations, and so it is understandable that the Police should be prepared, it does not feel entirely appropriate to treat everyone with quite so much contempt as I witnessed on Saturday. The treatment of the local population in “managing their safety” was disproportionate and not consistent with the remit of an organisation that operates with public consent.
More pictures of the event HERE