74 arrests at protests
5:00pm Saturday 20th March 2010 in News
VIOLENT protesters have been condemned by police following 74 arrests out at a demonstration in Bolton town centre.
The English Defence League (EDL), an organisation which opposes "radical Muslims" and Sharia law, organised the rally in Victoria Square.
A counter-demonstration by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) was also being held, and hundreds of police officers fought to keep the two factions separate, aided by police dogs.
Missiles were thrown across the barricades keeping the two sides apart, with the demo growing uglier as the day went on. Some protesters tried to smash down the barriers.
And pockets of trouble broke out away from the square. Police said they would be viewing CCTV footage of fighting which took place near the Market Place and Deansgate to bring the troublemakers to book.
But anti-fascist demonstrators have been critical of the police.
Among those arrested was UAF organiser, Weyman Bennett, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit violent disorder.
Anindya Bhattacharyya, UAF press officer, said: "A large group of riot police charged in, there were at least a dozen of them.
"They grabbed him and physically dragged him away even though he was protesting peacefully."
Police said there were 2,000 EDL protesters in the square, and around 1,500 from UAF. EDL demonstrators were herded away from the area shortly after 3pm and onto waiting trains and buses.
But more UAF supporters continued to arrive in the town hall Square, where they claimed a "victory". They started to leave at about 4pm, escorted by police.
Of the injuries, one man was taken to hospital for treatment to a minor head injury, one man was taken to hospital for treatment to a minor ear injury, a 16-year-old girl was treated after suffering a panic attack, a 19-year-old man received treatment for an ongoing health problem and one UAF demonstrator was treated after collapsing.
Two police officers were also injured; one was taken to hospital with a fractured finger and another for treatment to a dog bite.
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, who led the police operation, said: "From the moment that the English Defence League announced their intention to hold a protest in Bolton, it was made clear to us that the communities of Bolton did not want this to take place. "Greater Manchester Police and Bolton Council facilitated both the EDL right to protest as well as that of the UAF, who requested a counter-demonstration.
"We, the council and the communities of Bolton have worked hard over recent weeks in order to facilitate these protests in a safe and responsible manner.
"Today in Bolton we have seen some small evidence of this protest in the form of flag waving and vitriolic name calling - but we have also seen groups of people, predominantly associated with the UAF, engaging in violent confrontation.
"It is clear to me that a large number have attended today with the sole intention of committing disorder and their actions have been wholly unacceptable. Turning their anger onto police officers they acted with, at times, extreme violence and their actions led to injuries to police officers, protestors and members of the public.
"The police are not and should not be the target of such violence and anger and this protest and the actions of some of the protestors is roundly condemned by GMP and by Bolton Council. Were it not for the professionalism and bravery of police officers many others would have been seriously injured. I would also like to praise the efforts of the EDL stewards who worked with us in the face of some very ugly confrontations."
GMP will now be reviewing CCTV from the day to identify other people involved in inciting or committing disorder.
ACC Shewan added: "I am determined to identify offenders by whatever means and bring them to justice."
Chief Supt Steve Hartley, Bolton's divisional commander, said: "This has been without doubt one of the most challenging days, not only as divisional commander of Bolton but as a police officer.
"We have spent weeks working closely with all communities in Bolton in an attempt to inform them. "I would like to thank the people of Bolton, as well as the local businesses, for their support and patience.
"I also want to thank the mediators who gave up their time today to help the police work even more closely with the local communities.
"We will continue with our policing operation over the coming days and I would urge anyone who may have concerns to get in touch with us."