The English Defence League
drew around 200 people to its march, which it said was to defend freedom of speech and the rights of Norwich Reformed Church
and its mininster Rev Alan Clifford
, who has disassociated himself from the demonstration.
A counter march from the We Are Norwich
collection of faith and community groups, political parties and trade unions, drew over 1500 people to its demonstration.
After marching from Chapelfield Park and Castle Meadow, the two sides faced each other, with a large gap in between, in front of Norwich City Hall
, where the church banning decision was made.
With a very large Police presence of 400 officers from 11 different forces, just four arrests were made on the day, despite a lot of tension and provocation from both sides.
All three EDL speakers referred to the issues of freedom of speech and the banning of Norwich Reformed Church during their speeches.
An EDL speaker from Norwich, Glen Saffer, said from their platform: ”How have we come to this in a supposedly free society. After a single complaint from one Muslim out of a population of 195,000, a Christian bookstall and church was banned by Norwich City Council after the Police decided that no further action was needed as no hate crime had been committed.”
Joining the large We Are Norwich march were a number of identifiable Christian groups.
, from Norwich SPEAK
, a group of Christians from different Norwich churches who meet to pray about and take action on social justice issues, said: "I am really proud that we are all here together today; so many faiths and no faiths and different groups. We are the people who make up Norwich and we stand together peacefully and with dignity against the EDL.
"The root of the problem has been freedom of expression, which we agree should be proportionally afforded to all, but that can't be lumped together with the rest of what the EDL stands for, which unneccesarily swamps the original issue.
”I am a dual heritage person who belongs to this city and have lived in Norwich for over 25 years. I just feel disgusted that people are coming here to attack the cohesion of our diverse multicultural community and bring their divisive racist agenda to our city.”
Also marching was Rev Janet Wyer
, associate priest of St Peter Mancroft.
She said: "I am here today to support all those right-minded people who believe in freedom and who want to make their voices heard against fascism.
”I think it is a travesty that what the EDL are saying is that they are trying to represent freedom of speech when what they are really trying to do is to introduce their views of hatred and division.
”I don’t think they have any idea of the context or what actually went on in this situation and Norwich City Council were trying to act in the best interests of the whole of the community.”
, a member of Norwich Quaker
meeting, said: "I am here because organisations like the EDL are going to sow dissention and are racist. I think it is very important to be seen to be counted against them. I fully support the freedom of belief, including for Muslims. We are exercising our freedom of speech. I do not think it was unreasonable for the council to ban that church from using a charity stall for very inflammatory remarks.
”There is an argument about the treatment of women in Islamic countries, but the way forward is not using incendiary and propagandist language and methods but dialogue.
Rev Alan Clifford
, the minister at the centre of the controversy, told Radio Norfolk:
”When the local Norwich clergy fail to support me against the local council regarding our Christian convictions and they are more concerned to jump on the EDL, I think that there is a lot of deception going on.
”But I have made it quite clear in my YouTube
video that marches and demos are not my way of doing things. I think that more hostility has been expressed from the Left in this matter. I hold the middle ground position of authentic Christianity and it is the extremes of left and right which create problems in our society.”
Norwich Policing Commander Supt Paul Sanford
said: “I am really pleased with the outcome of today’s policing operation. At times it was challenging for officers but we successfully met our objectives of allowing the two groups to protest, which was their legal right.
“The event was largely peaceful but we acted swiftly and robustly to any signs of disorder. I would like to thank those who supported the peaceful event to members of the public and local businesses for their time and patience during the marches."
Read our previous article on this topic.
Pictured above are the demonstrations from the English Defence League and We Are Norwich.