Police chief vows to take ‘very firm line’ with demonstrators

Police at the 2010 SDL demonstration on the Royal Mile
Police at the 2010 SDL demonstration on the Royal Mile
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a senior police officer has pledged to take “a very firm line” if disorder breaks out during protests by fascist and anti-fascist groups at the weekend.

Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, who will be in command of the police operation, said there would be a strong police presence in the city centre as both groups assemble.

His comments came as it emerged the Scottish Defence League’s rally had also attracted members of an English group called North West Infidels, whose opponents say they are even more right-wing than the English Defence League.

Right-wing protesters are planning to travel from across England and Wales to attend Saturday’s SDL march. A Facebook page set up for the event shows members planning journeys from as far afield as London and Clacton in Essex. A coach is due to travel from Teeside, with individual protesters coming from places such as Macclesfield and Deeside in North Wales.

Another coach is also understood to be bringing fascists from the west of Scotland.

The event page says the group plans to gather between 1pm and 4pm, but does not reveal where, although Regent Road is thought to be the most likely site.

The same people who set up the page have also set up a second site on Facebook encouraging members of the North West Infidels to attend.

Spokesman for counter- protest group United Against Fascism, Luke Henderson, said of the group: “A lot of them appear to be coming up to Edinburgh, unfortunately, and they seem to have split from the EDL, saying that they’re too moderate.

“It looks like the SDL are coming from across Scotland and the north of England and we’re asking the people of Edinburgh to come out and say no to their race hate.”

United Against Fascism plans to counter the SDL protest with two separate rallies on Saturday, including speeches from Malcolm Chisholm, MSP and Dave Moxham of the STUC.

In February last year more than 2000 people joined an anti-fascist march through the city when the SDL attempted to protest, but were instead penned in at Jenny Ha’s pub in the Royal Mile.

The anti-fascist protesters plan to gather at 11am on The Mound on Saturday for their first rally, and then be escorted by police to a second event at around noon by the Wellington Statue at the east end of Princes Street.

Assistant Chief Constable Livingstone said police were experienced in dealing with both planned and spontaneous events in the city centre. “In February of last year, we faced a similar situation and policed that occasion very effectively with only minor disruption to the city and a handful of arrests,” he said.

“Looking to Saturday, I would like to reassure the people of Edinburgh and visitors to the city that they can go about their business as usual.

“We have followed closely the applications made to City of Edinburgh Council by both SDL and UAF. To anyone involved in organising demonstrations, we look for full co-operation with the police and have no issue with peaceful protest.

“However we will take a very firm line with people who seek to become involved in disorder. Our planning has been detailed, we are well prepared and we will have a strong police presence in the city centre.”

sgyford@edinburghnews.com