“COVENTRY is a very proud and diverse city – it always has been, it will be on Saturday and it will be for years to come.”
Those are the words of Coventry’s police Chief Superintendent ahead of Saturday’s planned march by controversial far-right group the English Defence League (EDL) who says it will be ‘business as usual’ in the city centre.
Ch Supt Danny Long has promised ‘vastly experienced’ officers will be on hand to ensure the protest by the self-described ‘English patriots’ and any counter groups remains peaceful and allows city residents to enjoy their weekend as usual.
Speaking to the Observer, Ch Supt Long said he wanted to reassure the public there would be sufficient policing efforts to cope with the EDL protest and potential counter-protests from anti-Fascist groups.
He explained: “We have all the normal numbers of officers on duty for a normal Saturday in Coventry.
“All our neighbourhood teams will be focused on outreach work with the public – particularly with communities who may feel a little vulnerable.
“In addition, we will also have specialist officers coming into the city – including public order officers, intelligence officers or protest liaison officers.
“There will be a lot of police officers around on Saturday, but that is as much to reassure the public as it is to deal with the protest.”
The EDL announced their protest against the threat of ‘Islamification’ last month, and said they would march against Coventry becoming a ‘Muslim ghetto’ as well as discussing the grooming of city children, people becoming radicalised and joining ISIS, and immigration at the demonstration.
But despite concerns over hate crimes and discrimination being raised by communities who are nervous ahead of Saturday, Ch Supt Long said he had faith Coventry’s reputation as the city of peace and reconciliation would not be affected.
He added: “The communities are used to dealing with threats to the city’s diversity, but they have been working well with us and sharing information.
“We feel for the community and their concerns, and we have been listening to them, but my message for the people of Coventry is ‘business as usual’ – our officers are well experienced and we will have sufficient numbers to deal with anything that happens on Saturday.”
“I am confident Coventry will remain unchanged after this.”
Police have been liaising with organisers from both the EDL and counter groups including Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and will juggle allowing each the right to protest against the threat of hate crimes being committed.
“On the day we will have more than enough officers on hand to deal with anyone found breaking the law,” Ch Supt Long said.
“But we will also have evidence gatherers around the protest, so if we don’t come to rule-breakers then and there, we will come for them later.
“If the protests are not peaceful or if there is any hate crime or violence we will deal robustly with it.”
Specialist public order commanders will also be at the car park of the Litten Tree pub on Warwick Road, where the EDL protesters are gathering, to monitor any drunk and disorderly behaviour which may arise.
Counter-protesters will also be kept separate from the EDL protesters – meeting in Broadgate, while the EDL take to Speaker’s Corner outside the Council House – with officers remaining vigilant against splinter groups or factions from both sides.
Offering a message of reassurance and hope to businesses, residents and visitors to Coventry this Saturday, Ch Supt Long said: “All we can do in our job as West Midlands Police and looking after the city is have enough staff on shift to deal with the situation, and to keep everyone safe – regardless of who comes on Saturday.
“Please bear with us as we keep everyone as safe as possible, and please work with us and tell us any information or concerns you have – the channels of communication will be open.”