Police and council bosses have pledged it will be ‘business as usual’ in Birmingham city centre tomorrow despite fears of violent clashes between rival protesters.
City bosses have moved to ensure that anti-Islamic extremist protests by the English Defence League and counter demonstrations by Unite Against Fascism do not lead to clashes in the city’s main Saturday shopping areas.
But they admitted they have no idea whether five, 50, 500 or even more people will take to the streets as neither group has made direct contact with police.
Instead their information has come from tip-offs, the internet and mobile phone conversations with some participants leaving officers in the dark about how the protests will be organised.
They are stepping up police numbers on Saturday afternoon, invoking special powers under the Public Order Act and have arranged two protest sites to keep the demonstrations away from the busy New Street and Bullring area to ensure that 150,000 expected visitors can shop in peace and safety.
Police refused to identify the sites but confirmed one will not be Victoria Square as it is hosting a large RAF display this weekend.
The EDL have already reacted by arranging, via their website, to meet under police supervision on Broad Street where they will be led to their protest site. The UAF indicated they will not be carrying out a counter-protest, lessening the threat of trouble.
Police have also made four arrests and are following up further enquiries following the publication of CCTV images of the disturbances in the city on August 8.
And they admitted that contrary to some statements in the wake of the trouble, the majority of the protesters involved were from Birmingham and surrounding area and not outsiders.
Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe said they have to balance the safety of shoppers and workers with the protesters’ fundamental right to free speech.
She confirmed the Home Office has granted a section 14a order, under the Public Order Act, giving them the right to move protests away from the Bullring shopping centre.
She said: “The groups have chosen to protest on a day when there are a large number of visitors in the city centre. The information on the protests changes hourly on both sides. We are getting most of our information from the internet.”
Birmingham City Council’s head of resilience Sharon Lea said that more disorder could have a huge negative impact on the local retail economy.
“It is the last Saturday before many children return to school, families will be out shopping for school uniforms. We expect 150,000 visitors to the city centre. The disorder on August 8th led to a losses of 15 per cent for one large store. With these measures we will ensure it is business as usual tomorrow.”
Meanwhile the chairman of Birmingham Methodist Church, Rev Bill Anderson, has written to the Home Office and West Midlands Police asking for them to ban the protest by the EDL.
“Their sole aim is to create tension and to intimidate and provoke the people of Birmingham with racist and Islamophobic abuse,” he said.