Home Secretary Alan Johnson is unable to ban the EDL demonstration on March 20, despite a united call from political and faith leaders for him to intervene.
His response follows a meeting yesterday between a delegation from Bolton and Alan Campbell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State responsible for crime reduction. The delegation included Councillors Linda Thomas, John Walsh and Roger Hayes and members of the Bolton Faith Leaders Forum including the Bishop of Bolton and representatives of the Bolton Council of mosques and Hindu Forum. The delegation expressed their concerns to the junior minister regarding the proposed demonstration and explained in more detail the reasons why they were requesting a ban.
The letter from the Home Secretary states that the government understands the concerns of the council, local communities and local businesses about the planned demonstration.
The government supports the right of people to peacefully express their views in public under the principles of free speech; however they understand that this right must be balanced against the rights of local communities to go about their daily business without fear of intimidation.
The Home Secretary explains that he has examined the law and whilst there are limited powers to ban a march, the government does not have any powers to ban an assembly unless it is on private property (that is land to which the public have no right of access.)
The Home Secretary also condemns those who seek to divide and cause distrust between communities and expresses the government’s determination to stamp out racism and extremism. He is confident that the police will be able to use their range of powers to deal with anyone behaving in a violent, threatening or disorderly manner.
Finally, the Home Secretary says that he knows that the police and the council will continue to work together with local community leaders to urge people not to respond to any demonstrations, ensure local communities are protected and minimise the risk of disorder.
Council Leader Cliff Morris commented: “We and the faith and community leaders have done everything within our power to prevent this demonstration due to the risk of violence. We are disappointed that the Home Secretary has been unable to ban this demonstration, however we understand that under current law, his powers are extremely limited.
“In the anticipation that a ban was unlikely, we have been working for some time with the police and local communities. We are confident that our excellent community relationships will not be harmed by this proposed demonstration and we urge local people not to be provoked into taking part in any counter-demonstration against EDL, which could potentially increase the risk of violence.
We will continue to work with local communities and businesses to prepare for this demonstration, in order to minimise any disruption to Bolton.”