Netpol has published a critical report into the policing of the EDL and Counter demonstrations of February 4th in Leicester. The report is a collation of the evidence and observations obtained by a team of community-based legal observers who spent the day monitoring the policing of both EDL and counter-demonstrations. The legal observers deployed were local volunteers trained by Netpol with support from The Race Equality Centre (TREC) and Highfields Centre.
The report criticises police handling of the demonstration, particularly the effort and resources the police and local authorities devoted to persuading the local community, particularly young people in the local community, not to attend counter demonstrations against the EDL. It also raises questions about the use of force, particularly the use of dog units against Muslim youth, and the restrictions on movement placed on the Muslim population, effectively making Leicester a ‘no-go’ area.
Val Swain of Netpol stated, “The decision by Leicestershire constabulary to persuade local communities, voluntary and faith groups and particularly young people to stay away from counter demonstrations was utterly wrong. It really cannot be the role of the police to decide who is able to demonstrate and who is not. As well as being an interference with fundamental rights to protest, it led to a policing strategy that prioritised police control of the local community, especially Muslim youth. This raised tensions, heightened anger, and in my view made conflict more, rather than less likely.”
A statement given to Netpol by a local youth who witnessed his friend being bitten by a police dog, is illustrative of this;
“That is ridiculous, that is not acceptable. He was in a lot of pain, he was treated by the ambulance for an hour. When last year the EDL kicked off big time, did they use the dogs on them? No. Why not? Because they are only after Muslims, that’s why.”
The report was launched at the Highfields Centre in Leicester on Monday 11th June by community youth worker and Netpol campaigner Saqib Deshmukh, who presented the findings to local activists, journalists and a representative of Leicestershire constabulary. Saqib has also helped to train community based legal observers in East London, as part of the initiative to monitor the policing of the Olympics by Netpol partner Newham Monitoring Project.
• Police, working with Leicester council, put significant resources into a campaign aimed at persuading local people, particularly the youth, to stay away from counter demonstrations.
• The use of the Children Act, which allows police to take under-eighteen year olds to a ‘place of safety’, was unacceptably used as a ‘scare tactic’ to further dissuade young people from attending demonstrations
• Police maintained control over the movements of local people, making Leicester effectively a ‘no go zone’ for young Muslim men.
• Police used substantial force to control groups of Muslim youth, including the use of kettles, baton strikes and police dogs, leading to one young man sustaining dog bite injuries.
• Stop and searches were carried out under s60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, a police power that does not require suspicion of an individual. Although the number of such stop and searches was not high, all reported searchers were of people of Asian appearance. Powers to remove face coverings and scarfs also appear to have been disproportionately used against Muslim/Asian young people.
• The facilitation of the EDL appeared to take greater priority than the facilitation of counter demonstrations.
There has been a great deal of interest in the media – from the local paper and BBC Radio Leicester, though not all of it was positive.
Netpol would like to thank the community legal observers in Leicester for their hard work in putting the report together. The quality of evidence that was given both in written form and the photographic and video evidence is testimony to this.