LUTON’S top cop believes that a repeat of last weekend’s protests by the English Defence League and Unite Against Facism in the summer would not give the town the time it needs to re-address community cohesion.
Saturday’s much anticipated protests passed off largely without incident, with police making just eight arrests and no-one seriously injured.
But the EDL are said to be intent on returning to the town in July, a move that would not only leave a large dent in the county’s policing budget, but also not give community leaders the opportunity to address some of the issues raised this time around according to divisional commander Chief Supt Mike Colbourne.
He told the Herald&Post: “My concern would be, what are we seeking to gain from a repeat?
“We’ve worked really hard around the cohesion agenda and done a great deal of significant work with Baroness Howells to produce a report on moving that work forward.
“I think the town has to be given the opportunity to work on all that. We need time to go out to the community, to the EDL and all the other groups who have raised a number of significant issues. I think we need a different process where we talk things through and try to gain an understanding of different opinions.”
Other than a couple of occasions when UAF supporters attempted to break away from their police cordon in Market Hill and Park Square, the protests were largely uneventful thanks to the combination of a strong police presence and far fewer protestors than expected. But policing the event cost Beds Police, which is already facing crippling budget cuts, as much as £1 million.
Chief Supt Colbourne added: “It’s not just about the cost to the police, there’s costs around cleaning up, restoration of normality, accountability to the public, and I haven’t even begun to talk about the loss of business in the town.
Saturday’s police operation, which saw 27 forces team up with officers from Bedfordshire, has earned plaudits from Home Secretary Theresa May.
Beds Police Authority has also praised Saturday’s operation.
Authority chairman Peter Conniff said: “Everyone involved in the planning and preparation for this event should be congratulated.”