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Community relations warning over EDL Luton demo

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A planned demonstration by the English Defence League (EDL) could damage community relations, faith leaders and a local MP has warned.

The EDL is holding a protest in Luton on Saturday while a counter protest has been organised by Unite Against Fascism.

Police in the town are planning a large uniformed presence, with officers drafted in from other forces across the country.

Bedfordshire Police also said pubs and off-licences will be open but will stop serving alcohol at noon, then will be free to serve again once the protests have finished in the afternoon.

But today faith representatives and local MP Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) spoke of concerns the protest will damage community relations.

Mr Hopkins, MP for Luton North, right, said: “Our diverse communities in Luton have always lived peacefully side by side.

“A march by the EDL will damage community relations in the town when much work has been done to build and sustain them.

“Freedom of speech is important but when outsiders are determined to come into Luton and incite racial hatred they should not be permitted to do so.”

He said he had written to the Home Secretary asking her to ban the march.

Mr Hopkins’ comments were supported by faith representatives, including Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, who accused the EDL of “blatant” racism.

He said: “The EDL’s ‘marches’ not only wreak havoc in towns and neighbourhoods across the country, they threaten to rent asunder the very fabric of our common society.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey also condemned the group, along with Dr Edie Friedman, executive director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality.

Banning order

The home secretary can ban a procession if she is convinced there will be serious disorder, but no ban can be put on people gathering for a lawful protest.

On a question-and-answer section of its website, Bedfordshire Police said a banning order in 2009 stopped the EDL from marching in Luton, but they were never banned from protesting.

The force said: “However, since that time there have been many EDL events where there has not been any serious disorder, and at some of those where serious disorder has occurred it has been caused by those opposing the EDL.

“On that evidence, there is no case in law to apply for a banning order at this time, and it has to be understood that a banning order only prevents them from marching as part of the protest, it does not stop them from coming to town to protest in the form of a static assembly.”

The force said it was monitoring the media and social networking sites, and if any fresh evidence came to light to support the application for a banning order then it may be used.

It added: “In order to get a banning order, the police and local authority must convince the home secretary that the imposition of conditions by the police will not be sufficient to prevent the holding of marches in the town or any specified parts of the town from resulting in serious public disorder.

“Luton BC’s political leaders have united together and decided to write to home secretary Theresa May seeking her support for a ban.”

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