Police have ordered the re-routing and restriction of a planned British National Party march from Woolwich to Lewisham on Saturday because of fears of disturbances.
Local anti-fascist groups led by unions are still expected to join a counter demonstration to the march, which was originally due to take place from Woolwich Barracks and finish at Lewisham Islamic Centre. It was organised following the murder of army drummer Lee Rigby last week.
Following concerns at the potential for disruption, the Metropolitan Police have used their powers under the Public Order Act to order the BNP march to be held between 1-4 pm on Saturday and relocated to the area between Old Palace Yard, outside the Palace of Westminster, and the Cenotaph in Whitehall. The decision makes the march easier to contain and moves it away from the locality of the murder and the Islamic centre.
The relocated march route is now less than a mile long.
It is still expected that local groups will join the counter demonstration organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), which said on Tuesday: “We call on everyone to join with Unite Against Fascism, local trade unionists, faith groups and community groups in a peaceful show of unity against the BNP and its Islamophobic poison.” The UAF website has since been updated to the new location of the protest. Other marches organised by the EDL are also expected to take place elsewhere tomorrow.
The march was also condemned by the Lewisham Islamic Centre: “This is not just an attack on Islam, it is an attack on community cohesion, diversity and everything we all stand for. We are one Borough and we are the majority and we must not allow these fringe expressions of hatred incited by groups such as the BNP and EDL start to flourish on our doorstep.”
Goldsmiths students are due to be among the counter demonstration, which will meet at Whitehall. They will be going from Goldsmiths at 11 to show a united front at the demonstration.
Goldsmiths Students’ Union Campaigns Officer-elect, Howard Littler said: “Since the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich attacks on Muslims have increased ten fold. This is down to the likes of the BNP using Lee’s death as an opportunity to reinvigorate their previously dying movement. We’ll be out on Saturday to stand with the community in opposing fascism and racism on our streets.”
The counter demonstration was also backed by Lewisham branch of the National Union of Teachers, which said: “Lewisham has a proud tradition of standing up to fascism and racism. We need to show that unity again this Saturday and stand together and show the BNP that we will not let racism – or terrorism – divide our community.”
The National Union of Teachers and the Lewisham Islamic Centre said that in light of the relocation of the protest “the most responsible course of action to now take is to cancel the rally” in a full statement made on the NUT: Lewisham website.”
Scotland Yard said attempts to negotiate an alternative route with the BNP had failed. ”The information and intelligence available to the MPS meant that it was necessary to impose the conditions to prevent the demonstration from resulting in serious disorder, serious damage to property, and/or serious disruption to the life of the community, ” the Yard said in a statement.
Commander Simon Letchford added: ”The right to protest is a fundamental part of our society, however, such an evocative mix of views being expressed in communities still hurting from Lee’s murder could have resulted in ugly scenes on our streets. Those communities have made it clear to us the impact that groups expressing extreme views has upon them. We have listened to those concerns following Lee Rigby’s murder, and we will keep working with all our communities.
We know that when groups with conflicting views come together it can create tension and disorder. What we have had to carefully consider is how to balance the right to protest with the negative impact on our communities and potential violence and disorder that may have resulted from these protests going ahead as they were suggested. If you want to protest on Saturday we ask that you do so peacefully, no matter what your view. We will work with you to enable that protest to go ahead.”
Tower Hamlets Council released a joint statement on behalf of faith groups and other institutions in the borough that said: “We are all deeply concerned that far Right extremists in the English Defence League may seek to exploit the situation further.” The council urged residents of the Tower Hamlets to remain calm and that “maintaining harmony” within the “diverse community” is their top priority.