Police stand firm and stick to the plan

STOP Officers form a human cordon to stop EDL marchers from getting into Guildhall Square
STOP Officers form a human cordon to stop EDL marchers from getting into Guildhall Square
Chief Inspector Sharon Woolrich

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THE police operation around Saturday’s English Defence League protest was weeks in the planning.

Hampshire Constabulary had regular meetings with EDL leaders in the run-up to the event in Portsmouth city centre.

On the day, Operation Buscot went ‘90 per cent to plan’, according to Superintendent Rick Burrows, the man in charge of 400 officers out in force.

But even the best-laid plans did not completely eradicate the problems which have become associated with previous EDL events across the country.

And the unpleasant actions of some people on the march ensured that police were kept on their toes in a cat-and-mouse game to make sure the day passed with the minimum of disorder.

On the day, despite pockets of confrontation which had the potential to get out of control, no violence broke out.

Edinburgh Road was shut from its junctions with Anglesea Road and Alfred Road to its junction with Stanhope Road and Unicorn Road from about 10am.

As the march began, police had to hold protesters back as some tried to surge forward.

But officers maintained control and the members were safely escorted for the remainder of the route.

Some protesters chanted. But others shouted racist abuse as the marchers were guided along the agreed route by EDL stewards and police.

Up to 400 officers were active along the route as placard-bearing protesters with flags and banners moved from the start point at Edinburgh Road, past The Hard and back up Park Road and Anglesea Road.

At Isambard Brunel Road, officers managed to stop protesters who tried to break away in an attempt to grab hold of scaffolding on a truck parked nearby.

The main flashpoint came moments after the protest ended in Edinburgh Road.

Riot vans were called to Guildhall Square as some marchers tried to get at a group of about 150 counter-protesters who had gathered there for their own protest against the EDL.

Two vans blocked the entrance to the square where it meets Isambard Brunel Road and dozens of officers in high-visibility jackets formed a human barrier to stop the two rival factions from clashing.

The groups hurled abuse at each other and some EDL protesters tried to force their way through – but failed.

One man climbed a tree in front of the police cordon to shout insults.

Mounted officers from Thames Valley Police were also drafted in as police managed to quell the volatile situation.

Supt Burrows said that apart from the troublemakers, the EDL supporters had kept to the plan agreed with Hampshire Constabulary.

‘They stuck to the procession route we had agreed with them,’ he said.

‘The contingency plan was to block access to Guildhall Square and yes, we did have to push people back to prevent confrontation, but that was easily delivered using the mounted section.

‘They did what they were asked to do, apart from a very small minority of EDL who were dealt with as part of the tactical plan.

‘My thanks go to the organisers of both sides and the members of the public for being mindful of the protest and congestion and tolerating it.’

He added: ‘It’s gone 90 per cent to plan. All plans have to build in flexibility.

‘The 10 per cent that didn’t is probably the initial policing of the procession when it set off, which required holding them back and re-setting it.

‘We had asked the EDL stewards to do that and it looked like they didn’t have the resilience to do that so we had to play catch-up and do it ourselves.’

‘The engagement with the protest organisers from both sides was very positive.

‘It’s about having a proportionate and appropriate numbers – you have also got to bear in mind policing of the whole of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.’

The protest has not cost taxpayers any extra for policing as all officers attending the march were scheduled to be on duty.