There were violent clashes yesterday as the March for England was held on Brighton seafront.
One of the largest police operations Brighton and Hove has ever seen was assembled to separate 150 nationalists from 1,000-plus anti-fascists.
While the main seafront march took place without incident, there were running battles as splinter groups from each side split from the main pack and into surrounding roads.
One such flashpoint saw opposing sides clash outside The Dorset pub on the corner of Gardner Street and North Road. Tables, chairs and bottles were thrown and punches exchanged as police were caught off-guard.
In total there were 27 arrests, ranging from assault causing actual bodily harm to possession of an offensive weapon.
The annual march saw hundreds of offices from forces including Devon and Cornwall, Surrey, Metropolitan, Hampshire, Thames Valley, Kent, Dorset and the City of London.
A sizable police presence was in and around Brighton station from early morning with the nationalists expected to filter through in small groups.
It was 10am before the first splash of red and white was spotted in the grand Victorian station and police searched hundreds of people.
Chants of “England, England, England” echoed around the streets as the nationalists made their way down to the Bright Helm Pub, in West Street, for pre-march drinks.
One group, who refused to give their names, denied they were racist and instead said they were “patriots”.
They said: “We don’t want trouble, we don’t come here for trouble, we are just proud of being English.
“If the ‘anti’ protesters didn’t come along then there wouldn’t be any trouble.
But every year they do, and every year there is violence.”
Anti-fascist groups caught wind of their movements and made their way to the Weatherspoons pub, which police had surrounded with officers and horses.
Both sides exchanged chants, with “Nazi scum off our streets” and “No surrender to the Taliban” among the most used.
With police looking to move protesters down to the agreed start of the march on the seafront, horses were sent in to clear the anti-fascists.
The nationalists were escorted to the seafront to start their march.
Then alongside the south side of Kings Road, behind officers and barricades, between 600 and 900 anti-fascists remained.
Among them was Brighton Pavilion MP, Caroline Lucas, and other members of the Green Party.
She said: “I am proud that the residents of Brighton have come out to defend the values for which the city has become well known: tolerance, diversity and equality.
“The people of Brighton have come out to show that the march is not welcome.”
Brighton Kemptown MP, Simon Kirby, was also on the seafront.
He added: “Looking forward, I would like it not to happen again and if it does, to happen elsewhere. I am worried about the cost to the police, the cost to local businesses, and most of all the damage to the reputation of Brighton and Hove.”
One group who wanted to get a message of a different kind across were the English Disco Lovers.
The Brighton-based performers, who share their initials EDL with far-right group the English Defence League, jived and danced along the promenade as the nationalists marched.
Alex Jones, 22, an art student and founder of the English Disco Lovers, said: “The marchers come here because it’s provocative. Brighton is a loving society – why not have a loving form of protest?
“I hope today is peaceful. I formed English Disco Lovers because I come from a background of nonviolent protest. You don’t fight hate with hate, you fight it with love.”
The nationalists made their way by the Royal Albion Hotel before turning back and were jeered and booed.
Chants of “Nazi scum, off our streets” and “Follow your leader – shoot yourself like Adolf Hitler” were responded to with “I’m English till I die” and “Have a wash” to the tune of the football chant “Here we go”.
While last year the nationalists were bussed in and out from the march start point, this time police were tasked with escorting them back to the station.
More than 200 officers, supported by horses and dogs, took the main group back up West Street and along Queen’s Road. But other than verbal abuse, well organised police lines kept the two sides apart.
The same could not be said for the surrounding streets where splinter groups were involved in trouble.
Half a dozen nationalists were drinking in The Dorset on the corner of Gardner Street and North Road, when they were spotted by balaclava-clad antis.
Mila Brazzi, 21, who was shopping with her friend Alice Johnson, 25, said: “There were five or six of them drinking at the pub. A group of people in black clothes who I assume were anti protesters came along.
“There was a bit of a standoff and then they started shouting and throwing chairs, tables and pint glasses at each other.
“There were families just metres away. There was glass flying everywhere, it was reckless and incredibly dangerous, I ended up hiding behind a bin.”
Miss Brazzi decided to film the incident, with the footage now on The Argus website. She said: “It was incredibly scary, I was shaking.”
With the bar staff and those from the adjacent Infinity Foods clearing up the mess, another fight broke out on nearby Frederick Street.
An isolated nationalist was kicked to the floor by two antis before police pounced. One was led away in handcuffs while the nationalist was left clinging to the curb, dazed, confused and bleeding from the ear.
Further scuffles were reported throughout the city, with splinter groups coming together on Middle Street. Shopper Kayleigh Adams, who witnessed the fight, said: “It was really scary for someone who hasn’t been to a protest like this before. There was a group of about twenty of the counter protesters all dressed in black.
They just went for them and they had a go back .”
Meanwhile back on Queen’s Road, after more than an hour of regrouping and kettling the nationalists, officers began to escort them to the station.
Officers with riot gear blocked off adjoining roads in an attempt to separate the groups with snarling dogs and horses playing their part.
The two sides exchanged their parting messages as the nationalists were loaded onto trains shortly after 3pm.
A Sussex Police spokeswoman said an investigation had been launched after a female police liaison officer was knocked to the ground by protesters.
Reports suggest she was knocked to the pavement and had items thrown at her. She is believed to have been separated from a colleague when she was set upon.
It is thought anti-fascist protesters were involved.
Despite the outbreaks of violence police bosses said the day passed “without any major incident”.
Supintendent Steve Whitton, who was in charge of the operation, said he was “satisfied” with how it was policed.
He said: “This was a significant policing operation, but I am satisfied that the results show that it was proportionate and appropriate in keeping the city relatively peaceful and free from serious disorder.
“While there have been a few incidents around the city these were swiftly dealt with. There were a few minor injuries, and one person who was arrested was treated at hospital.”
BUSINESS OWNERS' FURY AT SEAFRONT ROUTE
Business owners have spoken of their anger at the march being allowed to be held along the busy seafront.
It is the second year the event has been staged along Kings Road – which would usually be packed with day-trippers and locals.
Nadia Barroso, 25, manager of both Fish 'n' Chips and King of Rock, said: "For me it's very scary because the reason they are marching is people like me.
“But we pay taxes, we work. I don't claim benefits, I am only here to work because I can't do it in my own country."
Andrew Mifsud, a restaurant manager in Kings Road, said he would lose a day’s trade as a result of the march.
He said: "We are not allowed to open because we're not allowed to put out tables and chairs.
“Even the bins have been taken away.
By the time it's finished it's three or four o'clock and the day is over."
Jarvis Cash, 35, who owns a seafront hotel, questioned why nationalists had to hold the event in Brighton.
He said: “Obviously I’m very much against anything like the March for England. I respect their right to protest - it’s the massive cost to the city that really winds me up. Why here? They know what kind of reception they’re going to get. It just seems pointless.”
Matt Palmer, 21, who works in a seafront cafe on the route of the march, described the nationalists decision to come to Brighton as “bold”.
He added: “They are literally coming to the most liberal place in the country.
“Local businesses and the local economy thrive off workers from all different countries and of all different ethnicities.
“I moved down from the Midlands just to join such a diverse community.
Twenty seven people from as far away as Halifax were arrested for offences ranging from assault to possessing offensive weapons.
The youngest arrested was a 16-yearold boy from Brighton for not removing his balaclava or face mask – breaching a police order.
The oldest was a 49-year-old from Littlehampton for actual bodily harm (ABH).
Among those arrested was a 39-yearold man from Halifax, a 28-year-old man from Bristol, a 44-year-old woman from Hastings, a 28-year-old man from Tonbridge, a 45-year-old man from Portsmouth, a 21-year-old man from Sittingbourne, a 41-year-old man from Brighton and a 23-year-old man from Bodmin, Cornwall, all arrested for affray.
A 49-year-old man from Littlehampton and 22-year-old man of no fixed address were arrested for using threatening, abusive, insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause fear or provoke unlawful violence while a 33-year-old man, of no fixed address, was arrested for possessing an offensive weapon.
A 21-year-old man from Portsmouth, a 39-year-old man from Fareham, Hampshire, and a 37-year-old man from Hove were arrested for being drunk and disorderly.
Meanwhile a 32-year-old man, 27- year-old woman and a 22-year-old man, all from London, were arrested for common assault, violent disorder and for failing to give an officer their name and address after acting in an anti-social manner.
A 25-year-old man from Hove was arrested for a breach of section 14 – which was put in place to dictate where protesters were supposed to gather.
When The Argus went to press one woman was still in custody for failing to remove a balaclava and a man for obstructing an officer. Both were refusing to give their details.
One other person was arrested for a drug related offence and four others for public order offences.