At 15:00 hours, 450 EDL protestors were kettled in city square to listen to talks and to chant. The EDL supporters had come from all over the UK to preach their message on the streets of Leeds. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a football hooligan riot, with fists, skinheads, and barely a woman or child to be seen. There were banners with slogans such as ‘No to sharia law’, ‘Women are not posessions’, and ‘Extremist Islam big problem.’ Members of the EDL occasionally tried to break out past the fences and the police, who were there in their hundreds on horses, with dogs, and on foot.
The crowd outside was more mixed. It was mainly pro EDL, but there were about 150 anti fascists, who were mainly from Leeds, bundled in there as well. The outnumbering of the antifascists may largely be down to the fact that hundreds of UAF protesters were being kettled up by the art gallery on the Headrow.
At 15:30 there was a face off at city square, with both fascists and anti fascists chanting at each other. ‘England til I die’ vs ‘Nazi scum off our streets.’ The atmosphere was ominous and menacing. Any antifascist views were quickly and aggressively jumped on by pro EDL supporters; generally large, white skinhead men, spitting out their racist, homophobic views.
At 15:50, the EDL were let out of the kettle and herded towards the station, but a large group broke free and ran down underneath the station, followed by police. The police tried to contain them but they ran on and dispersed. Eventually, a group of 150 EDL supporters were escorted by police down Boar lane and to the station. The police formed a kettle around them, and there was no chanting to be heard by now. The police and let out 4 at a time into the station. A group of up to 100 disparate anti fascists followed the fascists to see them off on their trains and coaches.
Images of EDL thugs in Leeds today taken from Indymedia
Back into the vicinity of a computer from the anti-EDL march in Leeds city centre, here’s a dogs eye view of the turns of the day so far.
Arriving at about 9:30am into Leeds train station, the streets were notably clear already of anyone but worried looking police and disinterested shoppers. A low line of fencing surrounded city square, where statues were covered up with green tarpaulin and the distictly premature christmas tree that had been there a few days previously had disappeared. Electronic signs and loudspeaker systems were being erected around the square, which was to be the location of the EDL “against muslim extremism” (but of course not racist at all should the shaven headed hordes be believed). Ironically, this location had apparantly been chosen by the EDL as there is a giant statue of a knight on a horse there, who they believed to be St George, but is in fact a statue of “The Black Prince”.
A TV van outside the church opposite was having it’s doors tested by a couple of policemen seemingly looking for something to do, whilst a policewoman nearby was saying that she hoped noone would show up.
Leaving the area for a bit to get some flyers for the Northern Indymedia reporting number photocopied, disturbingly few outside of the area around the station were even aware of what was planned that day. A worker at a coffee shop nearby had heard however and asked if we were planning to attend. They wished the anti EDL demonstrators luck and a free coffee on the house should they return thirsty.
After an hour or so of handing out flyers to various friends and groups who were making their way in ever greater numbers to the city centre, we headed towards the library where various antifascist groups and anti racism campaigners were planning to meet. Again, there was a cordon around the “designated protest zone” and an even heavier police presence at this location. By the time we arrived at about 11.15am, there were very few people, those that were there mainly comprising of UAF stewards in their high visibilty jackets and several people trying to sell a certain newspaper to anyone who showed more than a passing interest in the activity going on.
The police at the entrance to the cordon were struggling to install a metal detector, of the type used at airports and football matches. “I think the batteries about to die Sarge” One policeman was heard shouting across the road. Later in the day, with the protest in full swing, there was still a couple of policemen struggling to make it work, by which point hundreds of people had already passed.
We took some pictures of the line of around 6 police vans and the “battle of the metal detector”, and left the cordon to go back down Park Row to see if there was a similar presence at that end of the street. 10 yards down the street however, we were stopped by a police medic who asked what my name was.
“I’m not so sure I want to tell you that” was my first response to this question, unwilling to comply with any attempts to draw me into casual conversation.
“Look, if you’re not going to tell me your name, I’m going to arrest you and we can get your name at the station” came the not so friendly reply.
“Surely I’m not required to tell you that” I responded, to which I was told that a blanket section 60 had been placed over the whole of Leeds, authorised by Chief Supt Milson of West Yorkshire Police. This meant, I was told, that they had the power to detain and search me if I was acting in any way suspiciously. When I asked what my suspicious behaviour was, I was told that it was due to me taking photographs of the police.
My efforts to explain that I was covering a major event to contribute to Indymedia, and that it was perfectly natural to be taking pictures when confronted with hundreds of police, a line of police vans and an airport style stop and search area, seemingly carried very little weight. A tense few moments led to a FIT cameraman with a video camera worthy of Universal studios was beckoned to within 3 feet of me to capture the remaining exchange.
As my bag was emptied of the spare socks, bourbons and computer equipment it contained in front of me, a stop and search slip was written out giving the reason “Sec 60 stop. Seen taking photos of police equipment” Of particular note to myself was when I was asked
“Are you a Gypsy or Traveller?”
At first assuming this was some stunning deductive guesswork from the medic, I was surprised to discover that this question actually has it’s own y/n box on the form (with an absence of any other similar question on the form, other than the standard “Self Defined Ethnicity Classification” box to which a code was also entered. When I objected to this, and pointed out that it’s a fairly offensive thing to include, I was told to bring it up with the home office.
Finally satisfied with the camerawork of his colleague, the medic turned back into my “Best friend” and helpfully informed me that I wasn’t a terrorist after all, with the words:
“If you’d have just given us your name and address when we asked, we wouldn’t have had to search you would we as you wouldn’t have seemed suspicious”, (which is a strange logic when I was stopped for ‘acting suspiciously’ even before they had chance), before admitting that section 60 is controversial. “It’s not very popular, but it works”.
Moving down to city square, people were getting ready for the arrival of the fash. The air was noticibly more tense as the police began to grow in numbers and cameras were unloaded from an unmarked BBC van with a satellite dish on the roof. We asked what they were hoping to film, to which they replied they probably wouldn’t be broadcasting any coverage unless fighting broke out, and that they were there “just in case”. Groups of Antifa activists, clearly and respectably unwilling to be penned in to the “official protest areas” milled about the nearby streets.
Heading back to the library, the numbers were beginning to swell and speakers tried to address the crowd from the steps. A police electronic billboard that had been erected circled in the background with the words “face coverings must not be worn”.
A sudden surge of police to block off the Headrow marked the arrival of a few hundred marchers with anarchist flags, seemingly from the Woodhose area of Leeds, being kettled into formation by several rows of police. Scuffles broke out as people tried to break through the lines towards the EDL pen by the station. At least one person was seperated from the crowd and arrested, and police struggled as a flare was lit and the crowd surged forwards, before eventually being pushed back into the barriers at the library.
Once things had calmed down a little, we headed back down Park Row to await the arrival of the EDL from the station. Wheras the Library end of the street was heavily policed, there were noticably fewer at the City Square end at this time. Eventually, a rush of police horses to the station and the distant chanting of “In-ger-land” and other football terrace chants marked the arrival of the fascists, to be held near the bus stops until the police cleared the streets.
Antifascists lined the barriers outside the church, waved flags and shouted “Nazis!”, only to be seperated off and silenced by the police who allowed the racist chanting on the other side of the road to continue. A mass of shaven headed people in football shirts stood amongst the antifascists on the side of the road, jeering and shouting support for the EDL, but soon backed off when confonted. Eventually, the EDL, numbering about 150, were penned in city square where they waved st Georges flags and chanted anti muslim slogans, bouncing up and down on the spot as they did so.
And so began the next few hours of the police battling to keep the two groups apart. Whilst the EDL seemed quite happy to drink lager and shout slurred, racist chants, many attempts were made by the anarchist antifascists to break out of the Library pen in numbers, only to be pushed back by both the police and the UAF stewards who were shouting over the megaphone “We have to stay and defend the library”. Who they were intending to defend it from is anybody’s guess as the fascists were quite happily swaying down the road. Occasionally, a small group of fascists would attempt to make their way to the library, only to be chased down by Antifa activists and spirited away back to their pen by the police to chants of “Police protect the fascists”.
Eventually, at about 3pm, the police surged into city square in large numbers and riot gear and began to push bystanders back to create an area of clear roads around city square. Whilst many hoped that they were finally going to deal with the racist chanting, 2 coaches arrived and the EDL dutifully got on board, leaving the square strewn with beer cans. Antifascists tried to get through, but instead dispersed in small groups to track down groups of skinheads who had slipped away to nearby pubs, most notably Yates’s wine bar which had an EDL flag hung up in the window.
Back at the library, groups of frustrated demonstrators attempted to leave the pen chanting “We want to march!”, only to be pushed back by a combination of the police and the UAF stewards, still seemingly trying to rally people to “defend the library”, despite the fact that the EDL were now sat on 2 coaches and without the stomach to even try. This seemed to be causing tension, and the police were stopping any groups from leaving the pen. A group which had got through, reformed and attempted to break through on Infirmary street were pushed back into the pen by police with batons.
With crowds dispersing, batteries dead and the main throng of fascists gone, we boarded a train and headed back to Bradford, the main impression of the day left in me being that the police seemed to have gone to extraordinary lengths to silence the antifascists, whilst giving the EDL centre stage. Looking at the “Gypsy/Traveller – y/n” section of my yellow slip, I tried to imagine why.