The EDL marched in Chelmsford, Essex against plans to build a large mosque in the city. They were opposed by roughly 3 times as many supporters of Chelmsford Against Racism. A heavy police presence kept the city peaceful during the marches.
The English Defence League (EDL) were marching to show their opposition against the plans for a large mosque in the city. They were opposed by a counter-demonstration roughly three times as large by Chelmsford Against Fascism and the UAF (United Against Fascism.)
The city was crowded with police both to keep these two groups apart but also to deal with the very much larger crowds heading for the 'V' festival in a nearby park.
I'd started by briefly photographing the UAF rally in the centre of the city before making my way to the pub a quarter mile away, closer to the site of the planned mosque, where the EDL were gathering.
There were roughly 80 of them, filling the small pub and its beer garden opposite the police station. Facing the pub when I arrived were a row of police horses, and there were more officers around it on foot. I started to photograph some of the EDL through the railings around the beer garden and was abused by one of those inside. He complained to police who told him that I was acting lawfully. Others inside the beer garden posed for me, making 'V' signs and other gestures for the camera.
When I had taken a few pictures an officer requested I move away to avoid further upsetting the marchers, and as I had already taken my pictures I was happy to do so.
Next I photographed the EDL Essex Dicision spokesman Paul Pitt as he was being interviewed for TV. His performance, police and smiling, gave a rather different impression to those supporters I had just been photographing.
Pitt stated that the EDL were not opposed to any building of mosques, but that the size and location of the proposed building was unsuitable. He denied that the EDL were racist and said that they represented the views of local people who had invited them to march in Chelmsford.
He went on to comment on the counter-demonstrators, sayint that the "UAF and Unite are here to silence us", and that one EDL supporter who had been intending to speak at the rally had withdrawn as he was a Unite member, and had be been recognised would have lost his job.
He went on to say that today's event would be "a strong positive march" but that " there will be no violence from us."
A few minutes later the march formed up in the street at the side of the pub behind several banners. There was some singing of well-known EDL songs, including one about Muslim Bombers, and as the march started, a rather large and fat marcher came towards me as I was taking pictures and said: "I hope all your family die of cancer."
I followed the EDL march, taking occasional pictures until it turned down the street where the rally was to take place. There was a huge police presence, with vans from other forces including Norfolk, with various fences and cordons across roads to ensure that the EDL and the counter demonstration were kept apart.
I returned to the UAF counter-protest in the middle of the busy shopping area. The rally had been going on there for almost two hours and now were lined up ready to march. As soon as the police had sealed off the street containing the EDL rally they were allowed to start their march, led by Weymann Bennett of the UAF, on a route that took them around the area where the EDL were meeting.
It was a very different march to that by the EDL, with roughly three times as many people - well over 200 - and many more placards and banners. It was also considerably louder, with almost continuous chanting calling for an end to the racist provocations of the EDL, though usually rather less politely.
The only incident I saw came when two EDL supporters came to the roadside and began to loudly shout 'EDL!, EDL!' For a few moments I didn't realise anything was happening, as many of the UAF chants had begun with 'EDL!' though followed in their case by 'Go To Hell!' or some similar comment.
Police were quick to drag the two men away to a seat away from the march, where they held them until it was past and told them not to interfere with it again.