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Your Interview: Sussex Police superintendant Steve Whitton
6:00am Saturday 3rd May 2014 in News
BWess93: The majority of the March for England attendees do not cause the trouble, should the opposing demonstration by the UAF go ahead as they are the ones who show aggression and hurl objects at police and those marching?
Steve Whitton (SW): Peaceful protest is a fundamental element of a democratic society. The European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated into domestic law by the 1998 Human Rights Act sets out a person’s right to freedom of thought, expression and assembly and public bodies cannot act in any way which could conflict with these principles.
The march and counter protest on the seafront was relatively peaceful. There is no differentiation between groups wanting to express their view and every year hundreds of different groups take part in marches and protests and assembles, which is their right to do.
The political leanings of any of the involved groups on the day are not contributory to any decision-making process, Brighton and Hove is a city which celebrates diversity and freedom of expression. Policing resources are deployed as required to facilitate the protests and maintain public order and safety. We do know there were incidents of disorder around the town, by people seeking violent confrontation, and we are continuing to investigate to hold people to account through the courts where appropriate. Banning the march cannot prevent these people coming to the city.
juleshove: The so-called March for England is well known for violence and trouble, having significant extremist thuggish supporters on both sides.
Brighton is a relatively small city with a very compact city centre. As a result the impact of this march is felt far more keenly by local residents than it would, for example, in a much larger city like Manchester or London.
The march also is detrimental to our tourism trade. I suspect any tourists who witnessed some of the aggressive behaviour I saw, would hold quite a negative opinion of our city.
Almost all of the marchers from both sides do not even live in our city and over 95% of local residents do not want this march to go ahead.
It seems the Green party are the only ones actively supporting the right for this march to go ahead, regardless of the massive disruption to the majority.
None of the three ‘serious’ political parties support this march taking place in Brighton.
Surely to reduce police costs and minimise the disruption caused, it would make sense to have this march take place (if it has to take place at all) in a city or location that is used to policing such aggressive events and where the impact is felt far less by local residents because of the size of the city, i.e. London?
SW: Brighton and Hove is known as a very diverse and tolerant city and a lot of groups choose to hold their protests and marches there because of that reason. If a group choose to come to Brighton to hold their event, we have no power to prevent them. The very extreme option of banning the march, which would not ban an assembly or group of people coming to the city, would ban all marches in the city for up to three months. We will continue to review the impact on the city and keep our future policing response and options under review.
clubrob6: I am very concerned with how these events are reported, both the MFE and the UAF attract a element that is violent some might say extremist. People think because people are hiding behind the name UAF that they are peaceful but what I have seen they are anything but, they even now attend UKIP events to cause trouble. When you release the figures on arrests could you also say which side they were on, either MFE, UAF or any other group etc. I’m pleased this year face-coverings were not allowed as I think if you want to protest in public you should show your face in public so hopefully anyone from any side breaking the law can now be traced.
The impression in the city is that March for England cause most of the violence but in reality I think it’s such groups as the Unite Against Fascism. What do arrest figures show?
SW: A lot of people who come to the city under the pretence of exercising their right to free speech, however many of these people are intent on causing trouble. The political leanings of any of the involved groups on the day are not contributory, other than to ensure that conflict does not arise or is swiftly and robustly dealt with, which we did this year. Whenever anyone is arrested we do not record their political leanings and therefore this is the same for Sunday’s policing.
Anyone who was causing disorder or committing offences, whichever group people belonged to, were arrested where possible.
I was determined to make sure anyone with their face covered up was dealt with appropriately this year. Officers were asking people to remove face coverings and if this was refused they were arrested. I had authorised a notice for the Section 60AA to be enforced. We had two people arrested for this offence, one of which has been charged and will appear in court later in May.
rolivan: Why is the March for England held where it is going to cause a lot of disruption. Why not hold it in Madeira Drive where there is virtually no through traffic and very little business going on that have to close for the day?
SW: The seafront was established as a suitable location for the march again this year due to the risks we are had to manage. Our key priority is keeping everyone safe, that is the public, participants and police. We always take every step possible to reduce the impact of the march so that, as far as possible, people can continue to go about their normal business or are disrupted for the minimal amount of time. Officers talked to all the traders along the seafront beforehand about the route and meetings were held regularly with partners including the city council and business representatives.
Other sites were considered, like Preston Park, however these open spaces would be difficult to police and would involve a much larger number of police officers to ensure the public are kept safe.
In the past the march took place in the centre of town which caused considerably more disruption. Madeira Drive is owned by the Brighton and Hove City Council and would have to be decided by their relevant committee.
John Laws, via email: Do you think most of the trouble was caused by the protesting lefties? If we just let the protesters get on with their protest, do you think it would now be over without incident?
SW: The march and counter protest on the seafront was relatively peaceful. We are aware that most of the problems occur before and after the march and counter protest, and this is mostly from people intent on causing trouble, whatever their political leaning.
Argus business editor Finn Scott-Delany: In Switzerland many controversial decisions are delegated to a referendum. Why not allow the residents of Brighton and Hove decide whether they want the march in their city?
SW: A person does not need permission to exercise their fundamental rights under the Human Rights Act so this is not an option. It is, however, important that the impact of such events is fully assessed so that plans can be developed for the future.
I am keen to support the city council in working with people across the whole city, including residents, traders, businesses and visitors, to ensure we fully understand the impact of decisions made.
Argus reporter Peter Truman: Do you think the overwhelming police presence adds additional tension to the protest rather than offering a vision of safety?
SW: No. We provide resources proportionate to the risk and our priority is always keeping everyone in the city at that time safe. A lot of people have commented to us and our officers that they were reassured by the police presence.
Argus letters editor Adrian Imms: Do you think March for England’s decision to march in Brighton is, by its very nature, at odds with their claims to want a “peaceful protest” that “celebrates being English”?
How does this protest compare with other protests held elsewhere in Britain, in your experience?
SW: The first part is a matter for March for England and not for the police to comment on. Each protest is assessed in its own right and cannot be compared.
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