PHOTO: Arsha Ali

PHOTO: Arsha Ali

A guest post by Saqib Deshmukh of High Wycombe Community Advocates and Netpol on a new report raising serious questions about the policing of last month’s EDL march and counter-demonstration

High Wycombe Community Advocates (HWCA) were one of the key local groups behind the hugely successful counter demonstration against the EDL on Saturday April 9th. We were pleased overall that it went off relatively peacefully and it was great to see a mix of young and old and different sections of communities and political affiliations coming together.

We hugely outnumbered the English Defence League whose presence only seemed larger due to the large number of police officers around them at all times! It showed how local and county/region wide groups could come together to find common purpose and ensure that there was effective opposition to the English Defence League.

However, it also showed how out of touch how local leadership particularly in the Asian community are with what is happening on the ground.

PHOTO: Arsha Ali

PHOTO: Arsha Ali

We managed to work with Oxford UAF and the young firebrands of Oxford and High Wycombe Antifa and ensure that we had community based stewards/volunteers who helped us to manage the day. We were representing the local communities in the town and in particular the Asian/Muslim folk in High Wycombe. Many of our youth ignored the stay at home message and massive police presence to reach down to the latter rally. Many of them had been told at Friday prayers NOT to come into town! In our view this was Thames Valley Police scaremongering and community collusion at its finest.

We see this as direct political interference by the police and that this fundamentally conflicts with the police’s legal duty to facilitate peaceful protest.

There was a minimum of trouble on Saturday, despite the scare tactics in place. However, we know that Thames Valley police needed to justify the massive deployment that took place. What we will be challenging the police on is why the racist clowns of the EDL were not arrested immediately for public order offences as soon as they got off their trains and coaches. It is clear that they were drunk and being disorderly in public, and in other contexts (football matches in particular) they would be charged and there were Section 34/35 in place to deal with anti-social behaviour. Having gone to many counter demos in recent years we’ve seen how close and chummy the cops get to these guys so it’s no surprise that they were not picked up.

There have also been a number of concerns that have been raised by ourselves and the other groups involved in our demonstration. The use of intelligence /evidence gathering teams was extremely obtrusive and bordering on harassment. Then when people covered their faces they were warned about breaching Section 60AA that was in place around not allowing faces to be covered. Additionally, the numbers of police deployed was not proportionate to the actual threat being posed by the EDL and ourselves. Was this number of officers needed for the number of EDL and counter demonstrators present? Seriously poor intelligence on part of the police but the numbers present served their purpose to put off people coming out as the they effectively had the town on lock down.

There was a lack of local police/neighbourhood officers on duty so for example local African-Caribbean businesses on Desborough Road were not visited or given assurances on the day. On a wider basis many market traders and local businesses complained about a lack of information and visits from town centre management and police. HWCA had to provide reassurances/support to many of them before they decided to stay open otherwise the High Street in particular would have been deserted. As ever the local media were selective in their coverage. One week there was strong TVP ‘riot police on standby’ message and then the day before one small article in printed edition. But we have little impartiality in the town and it’s clear from our campaigning and advocacy work how close they are to the police.

HWCA have produced a report on last month’s demonstrations and asking serious questions about the levels of policing present (and the cost of this), surveillance, and political interference and community collusion. We will ensure that there is strong leadership that both questions those in power in the town and the brigade of community chumchay (collaborator/favourite) that give them legitimacy and cover. As we maintain our battle is not just with the English Defence League but the daily grind of racism and harassment that our communities face from the authorities and the police. In the age of Prevent and Channel the challenge for us is greater than ever.

Download the High Wycombe Community Advocates here [pdf_icon, 2.4 Mb]