SOLIHULL police has finalised plans ahead of a far right-wing demonstration in the borough tomorrow (Saturday, February 6) – and warned it will come down hard on anyone intent on causing trouble.
Pegida UK, founded by the former English Defence League (EDL) leader, will hold a ‘silent protest’ against ‘mass immigration and the islamification of the west’ at the Birmingham International Business Park, near Birmingham International train station.
Protestors will muster at the station car-park between 1pm and 2pm before walking to the demo point in nearby Starley Way.
It is anticipated the event will end by around 3pm.
Speaking to the Observer, Chief Superintendent Alex Murray said he is optimistic the force’s preparations will enable the demonstration to go ahead without trouble.
“Our job on the day is two-fold,” Chief Supt Murray explained.
“Firstly, we have to manage the protest and ensure we don’t put too many restrictions on those who have come to demonstrate.
“But we also have to ensure normal users of the area are able to go about their business without disruption.”
Pegida UK, which describes itself on its official Facebook page as ‘a non-racist, non-violent group’, is a branch of the far-right German campaign group and was set up by former English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson.
In a bid to prevent the drink-fuelled violence that tarred EDL protests, organisers have said the march will be ‘silent’ and have banned participants from drinking alcohol or covering their faces.
While arguing protest organisers had to ensure the day is safe for all, Chief Supt Murray said officers had to protect peoples’ right to protest.
He added: “There is a strong narrative among people asking ‘why can’t you just ban the protest?'”
“But we’re not legally able to and the right to protest – whatever the message – is enshrined in law.
“If police start putting restrictions on protests, then that could be interpreted as a police state and freedom of speech is something that should be enjoyed by all.
“Even if we personally don’t like what they are saying we have to balance supporting community members, not putting too many restrictions on protesters, and managing any crime.”
Chief Supt Murray also said the force had planned for potential clashes between Pegida UK and opposing anti-Fascist groups.
There will be a large police presence, as well as liason officers and members of local communities on hand to talk to protesters.
Starley Way will be closed during the day while Bickenhill Lane will be shut temporarily for a short period to allow for protestors to walk from Birmingham International to the demo point where speeches will be held.
Issuing a message to protesters, demonstrators and members of the public, Chief Supt Murray said: “We can’t predict what is going to happen and we can’t rely on people saying what they’re doing, but we do have well-tested methods in dealing with protests and have been preparing for this for months.
“If you’re coming as a protester the police totally understand and will respect your right to protest.
“But I warn anyone who wants to come and cause trouble and crime that they will be robustly dealt with.”