EDL marches lead to violent clashes as anger takes a hold of Bristol city centre's streets
Post reporter Heather Pickstock witnessed the English Defence League march in central Bristol, and accompanying police operation, from start to finish...
THE huge operation to police the English Defence League's Bristol protest swung into action from around 10am, as officers began to arrive in Redcliffe Wharf, the starting point for the march.
Police in riot gear lined Welsh Back and Mill Avenue, directing traffic away from the area, while many of the exits into Queen Square, where the march would end with a rally, were sealed off.
EDL supporters started to arrive at around 10.30am. Some had come from Temple Meads station, where the first clashes with opposing protesters had taken place. Others arrived in vans with St George flags draped across the windows.
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A small group, believed to be from the Midlands, were escorted by police as they walked across Redcliffe Bridge, clapping and chanting "Whose streets? Our streets" as they made their way to the meeting point. A few hundred metres away, opposite the Hippodrome, counter protesters from We Are Bristol were chanting the same slogan.
Keeping an eye on them were a team of 24 mounted police – some of the 1,000 officers from Cornwall to Yorkshire who had been drafted in to take part in the operation.
More EDL supporters arrived in coaches and minibuses, many wearing the far-right organisation's red, white and black sweatshirts.
Before the march started, EDL members spoke about their reasons for taking part. John Rose, 45, from Redfield, said: "No one is denying that there is a problem with immigration in this country but the Government seems to look after the immigrants more than its own people. It's not OK for an OAP to stay freezing for a week in the winter before they get a fuel payment."
Mike Dyer, 32, from Hartcliffe, said: "What we love about Bristol is that it is a multi-cultural city. What we don't like is people coming here and trying to turn our country into a sharia state. If you want to come here you should abide by our laws, so that we can all live together quite happily."
The next clash with anti-fascist protesters was outside St Mary Redcliffe church. Bottles were thrown as police with batons and dogs battled to keep the two sides – each about 100 strong and separated by a metal road barrier – apart.
As their opponents were kept outside the church, EDL supporters were shepherded by the police to a cordoned-off area outside the Colosseum pub where a Bristol banner for the group could be seen.
EDL marchers were then guided into the car park at Redcliffe Wharf, constantly heckled.
Ronell Sabener, 52, from Bristol, who was among the anti-fascist protesters, said: "We have not got any problems in Bristol. The EDL has got the wrong end of the stick coming here."
Watching on were Bristol students Jessica Meechan, 20, and 19-year-old Bridie Daly.
Jessica said: "I came down to the protest because I am totally against racism. I did not think it would be like this and I certainly do not welcome this sort of protest."
Bridie said: "I am angry that these people have taken over our city. Bristol is a peaceful place and there is no need for this sort of protest here."
A further group of around 50 EDL supporters arrived at just after 12.30pm, flanked by police.
They included some with a banner for the group's Weston-super-Mare division, who were greeted with applause and cheers.
Rocks were thrown by some within the EDL crowd at people lining Redcliffe Parade above the car park and meeting point.
As the march started, police flanked the EDL as they made their way across Redcliffe Bridge and into Welsh Back. Many businesses had chosen to close during the march, including the Hole in the Wall and The Spyglass Barbecue and Grill.
Some residents watched the march, which was led by three shaven-headed men draped in England flags and a transgender member, who said she was called Jane.
Police formed a barricade on the corner of Crow Lane to prevent any clashing with counter-demonstrators standing on Bristol Bridge.
The procession then made its way to Queen Square, where the EDL supporters listened to speeches by members Tony Curtis and Kevin Carroll.
Mr Curtis told them: "The Bristol Against Fascism group said the EDL was violent, fascist thugs. We are not the ones going round with bombs in our cars – the only people that are doing this is the Islamics. I expect an apology for this comment, although I am not holding my breath."
Mr Curtis thanked the police for working with the EDL on the march to ensure it passed off safely.
He added: "We have a right to be here and a right to say what we are saying."
As the rally ended, EDL members were guided by police to exit Queen Square through the exit by the Hole in the Wall bar.
As the EDL members were kept on the bridge, tensions started to rise again as anti-fascist protesters had started to gather on the other side of Redcliffe Wharf by the roundabout.
As those who had come by coach and minibus walked back into Redcliffe Wharf, they traded insults with people lining Redcliffe Parade above them.
Then trouble started to flare as people in the EDL crowd began to throw rocks and stones up at the people taunting them.
Bottles and rocks were then thrown back down towards the EDL supporters below, and police forcibly cleared the area.
On Redcliffe Way, officers donned riot gear and prepared to push back counter-protesters so the EDL members could be guided through the city and on to Temple Meads.
But as the police waited for the protesters to disperse, several young men, wearing hooded tops and with their faces covered, began dragging large wheelie bins from close to the Ramada Hotel, turning them over in the road to form a barrier.
Rubbish inside the bins was set ablaze as the police moved forward.
And then came the most frightening scenes of the day, as mounted officers charged down Redcliffe Way, with protesters and members of the public who had been watching having to run to get out of the way.
Just before the charge, police tried to move on a group of protesters holding a large green banner, which ended up almost being wrapped around a horse.
Others pelted police with bottles and vegetables found in the bins and lumps of concrete.
As the charge swept the protesters on to Temple Way and Victoria Street, one man was grappled to the ground by five police as officers followed a command of "draw batons and charge".
The trouble continued on to the Temple Circus roundabout, with riot vans and officers forcing the protesters up along Victoria Street.
Spectator Imran Ali, 38, from Easton, was shocked by what he saw.
He said: "I am just a normal resident of Bristol who came out to watch what I thought would be a peaceful protest
"The behaviour by these anti-fascist protesters is outrageous."
As police cordoned off the roundabout and surrounding roads, the remaining EDL members were brought along Redcliffe Way.
Officers maintained a deep cordon around the group to stop the two sides from clashing.
At one point a number of EDL supporters, goaded by chants of "Nazi scum" and "shame on you", attempted to break the cordon.
But police held firm and continued to slowly guide the group to the rear entrance of Temple Meads railway station.