POLICE patrols are to be stepped up around Preston’s mosques on Saturday as around 1,200 protesters head into the city to take part in two demonstrations.
Chief Supt Tim Jacques, head of Preston Police, revealed the plans ahead of the demonstration by the English Defence League and counter demonstration by Unite Against Facism and the Trade Union Council.
The protests coincide with the PNE v Millwall game at Deepdale.
Police officers’ days off have been cancelled and specially trained public order officers are being drafted in from other parts of the county to support the policing operation, which will see the mounted branch, road police and other units taking to city centre streets.
The two groups of demonstrators will be in the city’s Flag Market with temporary low level fencing to separate them.
Today Chief Supt Jacques said it would be one of the biggest police operations seen in Preston in recent years but insisted the city was “open for business as usual” on Saturday - the fourth week before Christmas and the first official Christmas shopping weekend.
He also moved to calm fears of violence that has been seen in similar demonstrations in other cities.
He said: “We are working with the community and police officers are going to be in the areas where the mosques are on Saturday to reassure people.
“We have had lots of meetings with the mosques and are working with the demonstration organisers in terms of minimising the impact. There are no planned demonstrations outside any mosques but it is in our minds.
“Our number one priority is keeping people in the city safe and to minimise disruption on a busy Saturday before Christmas.”
He said the force would be making a proportionate response to any threats and added: “There’s no doubt there will be a lot of police officers in Preston and in surrounding areas. All the information we have suggests we can facilitate two lawful and peaceful demonstrations.
“It will be one of the biggest operations seen in Preston in terms of planning but on terms of what we are dealing with it is smaller - in the past we have dealt with 6,000 Premier League fans coming into the city.”
We have to look at the context of where we are as a city - some of the backdrop of the places of previous demonstrations are different. Preston is a pretty cohesive city so our starting point is different to other places.”