- Jun 17 2010 by Abby Alford, South Wales Echo
Recommend POLICE have come under attack from an Assembly Member for the way they handled a controversial protest march in Cardiff.
Leanne Wood told the National Assembly she had been “sickened” by the decision to allow members of the Welsh and English Defence League to rally in Cardiff. The Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales Central addressed a counter demonstration by Unite Against Fascism on June 5.
But she said she was “appalled” that South Wales Police had spent money “building a steel fence and kettling in the anti-racist protesters, while the English Defence League were escorted to a pub and then escorted on a march around the city centre”.
“Kettling” is the name given to the controversial Metropolitan Police tactic used to contain demonstrators during G20 protests in London last year.
Ms Wood has asked the Assembly Government to examine what happened and report back “to make sure that a situation that happened in Cardiff a week last Saturday can never happen again”.
She has also written to Chief Constable Peter Vaughan expressing her concerns.
An Assembly Government spokeswoman said Social Justice Minister Carl Sargeant was aware of the issues and would respond in due course.
She said: “We recognise that while the messages expressed by particular groups may be extreme and not welcomed by the majority of people, everyone has the right to free speech and to express their democratic right to protest. While the majority of people in Wales will treat the views of extremists with the contempt they deserve, the facilitation of peaceful protest by such groups will always be balanced against the needs and rights of local communities and the wider public.”
A South Wales Police spokeswoman said they had not yet received Ms Wood’s letter. But Assistant Chief Constable Nick Croft has already responded to a letter from Ross Saunders, of the Cardiff Communities Against Racism group.
In his reply Mr Croft explained that the Welsh and English Defence League protest had been allowed to go ahead because it was lawful, even if the views expressed were “unpopular or disturbing”.
The spokeswoman said: “It is pertinent to outline that our role is to facilitate peaceful protests, to minimise disruption to the general public and to maintain business continuity.
“We would add that it is South Wales Police’s role to safeguard the rights and health and safety of all involved.
“We would also like to highlight that officers at no stage used containment tactics often referred to as ‘kettling’. Clear exits were provided and made available to individuals at all times and we went to great lengths to communicate this to demonstrators.”