Police say they are “expecting low numbers” to attend the English Defence League’s rescheduled march in Wellington this weekend, and are “desperately sorry” for the town’s businesses who may lose trade because of it.
The group originally planned to demonstrate on Saturday, March 16 but postponed it following the New Zealand mosque shootings the previous day.
They have since rescheduled for Saturday, April 13 and West Mercia Police Inspector Gary Wade updated Wellington Town Council about the force’s preparations for the day.
He said the EDL were saying 30 demonstrators would attend, and “there are probably enough police to ‘man-mark’ everyone” at their gathering and the planned counter-demonstration.
Insp Wade reminded councillors that he had attended their previous full meeting on March 12, when the EDL were still planning to demonstrate on March 16.
He said: “We had the tragic events in New Zealand and they told us they wouldn’t be coming because it was inappropriate. Make of that what you will.
“After that, they informed us they would be coming on April 13, which is Saturday.”
A statement on the EDL website, announcing the new date, said they suspended the original demonstration “out of consideration for the pain and
suffering caused by the Christchurch mass murder and to give the Muslim community and the world time to grieve and reflect on these events”.
It added: “By suspending our demonstration, however, we did not abandon our purpose of calling attention to the dangers of radical Islam.
“This is our right, even our duty as people who love our country and seek the best for the realm using the traditional process of debate and discussion in the public square.”
Insp Wade said the EDL were planning to assemble at the former Natwest building around midday.
“On Saturday, again, we are expecting low numbers,” he said.
“We have been in constant contact with the EDL, which initially said 50 and they are now saying 30, which generally means around 20.”
He added that there were plans for a “counter-demonstration, as it has been described, or a ‘Stand up to Racism’ event” which will also be monitored by officers.
“There are probably enough police to ‘man-mark’ everyone who attends but, unfortunately, that is the kind of scenario that happens regularly,” he said.
“It’s sad we have to do this, but we are where we are.
“I feel desperately sorry for the residents and more sorry for the retail businesses in the town. There is very little I can do. We live in a democracy and they have their right.
“If you think we wish for the EDL to come into any square or street to deliver speeches about their views you are very very wrong.
“We’re here to keep the peace.
“We would wish to say ‘You can’t go into the square’, but on a legal basis it’s very, very difficult.”
Wellington mayor Cindy Mason-Morris said the town council’s response to the rescheduled demonstration was the same as when it was originally planned.
“Wellington is a diverse place,” she said. “If you respect and value the diversity, you are welcome in our town at any time.”