Race-hate fears over new protest group

Date published: 22 September 2009

A GROUP branded as far-right fascists has formed in Oldham sparking fears of a return to racial clashes.

The branch of the English Defence League — recently involved in violent disorder in Birmingham — has been set up by a football hooligan involved in the 2001 Oldham race riots, and already has 50 members.

Equality campaigners fear their emergence could harm the good work done to create community cohesion and have vowed to work even harder to ease tensions.

EDL’s leaders insist they are not racist, far-right or fascist, condemn the BNP and organise only peaceful protests against Islamic extremists.

But four specialist national police units are investigating the EDL, including detectives with a background in prosecuting hooliganism, extreme violence and terrorism, while a police summit has been organised.

During the recent Birmingham protest, EDL members clashed with anti-fascist campaigners and riot police resulting in violent skirmishes on busy shopping streets and ending with 50 arrests.

Birmingham Respect Party Councillor Salma Yaqoob labelled the EDL as a far right fascist group, while Government Minister John Denham compared their tactics to the fascist street marches of the 1930s — accusations vehemently denied by the EDL.

A similar protest is planned in Manchester on October 10 and will be attended by the Oldham branch, while demonstrations in Oldham could follow.

Tariq Rafique, from Oldham Race Equality Partnership, said people were scared at the prospect.

He said: “Their main priority is to undermine the good work done in places like Oldham.

“They are trying to move us back into the dark days that no one wanted to ever see. It now pushes us even further to defeat people who are just interested in promoting hate and dividing our communities.”

Race-equality champion Father Phil Sumner said the group was clearly anti-Muslim and survived off creating conflict.

He added: “They will try their best to upset what has taken place and at times they will succeed in upsetting people because of their tactics.

“Initially, people will be caught up in reacting to them but it creates a lot of energy and does not achieve anything.

“The basis of the work we have done and continue to do has established relationships that will enable people in our area to recognise what’s going on and not be dragged into it and allow the good work to be destroyed.”

The EDL emerged in March as a reaction to a group of Muslims protesting against soldiers returning from Afghanistan parading through Luton.

Their leader from Luton, who gives his name as Tommy Robinson, claims there’s growing demand, resulting in 100 branches forming.

He said: “The people who are fascists in this country are the Islamic extremists who preach hatred and go completely unchallenged.

“They are preaching an incorrect form of Islam and we need this problem that’s infecting this country to be dealt with.

“Muslims have many voices and councils across the whole country are bending over backwards to help them but we don’t feel we have a voice as a community.

“I can see that in a town like Oldham with racial tensions from years ago it might look alarming but if the Muslim community look and listen to what we are asking it’s non-racist.”

He claimed protests had gone wrong because yobs had attached themselves to his group and young Muslims fearing they were under attack by fascists had retaliated. He said far-right racists are not welcome at their protests.

He insisted EDL members are just football fans and he didn’t want hooligans running the organisation.

But Det Sgt Mark McDowall, from Oldham’s Hate Crime Unit, said: “We are certainly keeping an eye on it. We monitor anything that could cause some sort of tension. We are monitoring the reported protest in Manchester.”

The organisation Hope Not Hate is campaigning for the Manchester protest to be cancelled. Visit action.hopenothate.org.uk/manchester for details.

Violent background of branch leader

THE English Defence League’s Oldham branch leader Michael, who does not want to give his surname, admits he has criminal convictions for assault and public disorder and served a two-year order banning him from football grounds — though he says that is in the past.

The 25-year-old has led football firm the Fine Young Casuals, involved in the Oldham riots, for 10 years. The father-of-two said: “You can’t win a fight without people like that. The BNP are not working. It’s time to have a go. Whatever needs must.

“These will be peaceful protests but trouble comes to us from the far left and we have to be prepared to stand up for ourselves. Football hooligans are prepared to stand up and fight.

“We have a good group from Oldham who are ready to protest and do whatever they need to do. We are determined. We want to have extremist Muslims off the streets.”

Asked if he was proud of his involvement in the riots, he said: “We were standing up for something we believed in at the time. But it’s a long time ago and I was young then.”