Brighton and Hove is counting the cost of its largest police operation for more than 20 years after a nationalist parade brought the city centre to a standstill.

During a chaotic day, more than 700 officers from forces across the country struggled to keep order as the annual March for England took place along the sunny seafront.

This was the fourth time the nationalist group has come to Brighton to mark St George’s Day. Sussex Police confirmed the operation was the largest since the Tory party conferences of the 1980s with the taxpayer bill set to total “several hundreds of thousands of pounds”.

The force, however, refused to put a price on the operation.

Although Sunday’s parade of around 250 marchers passed off largely peacefully, there were injuries when clashes between some nationalists and groups of the 1,000 anti-fascist demonstrators spilled over into back streets.

The protesters and marchers were separated along the route of the parade, between the Palace Pier and Ship Street, by lines of police and steel fences.

People were prevented from reaching the seafront from The Lanes by giant barriers.

By the end of the day, 19 arrests had been made for offences including affray, assaulting police and possession of offensive weapons.

A Sussex Police spokesman blamed most of the disorder on “a small minority from within those who were there to oppose the march”.

The day started rather differently, with nationalists queuing politely for their egg and cress sandwiches at Brighton Station.

Following a detour to the off-licence, the group of 20, complete with St George’s flags and replica England football kits, made their way to the seafront.

On reaching the Old Steine there was confusion as hundreds of officers attempted to keep them apart from the anti-fascists.

With the nationalists hopelessly outnumbered it wasn’t long before a dozen snarling Alsatians, horses and riot police moved in.

Then, as Caroline Lucas MP and a host of others were set to begin their speeches, a roar erupted as two dozen nationalists came down Marine Parade.

“Engeerland, Engeerland, Engeerland, ” they chanted as the 75- strong balaclava-clad anti-fascists cornered them at the entrance to the Sealife Centre.

One hurled a beach pebble at the clean shaven head of a nationalist, sparking a bloody brawl.

Three antis then jumped the barrier swinging wildly as their friends hurled what is believed to be bottles of urine.

A flurry of Brighton’s famous beach pebbles followed and, bizarrely, a bottle of Gordon’s Gin.

The nationalists came back, kicking one of the protesters to the floor while another waved a mass of bamboo canes wildly in their direction.

Completely taken by surprise, it was 20 seconds before the police presence was felt.

Three police horses eventually drove the horde of anti-fascists back, allowing the nationalists to make a swift exit to join their friends on Madeira Drive.

With the main organised march beginning to take shape at midday, 50 balaclava-wearing activists, dressed head to toe in black, made their way through Kemp Town’s streets.

“Up there on the left, ” a scout at the head of the group shouted, before they charged down Chapel Street towards a group of nationalists.

A flurry of activity came over the police radio and two horses galloped up St James’s Street, leaving those sitting outside its many cafes rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

The police helicopter hummed overhead as officers from Kent and the Metropolitan Police Force attempted to navigate the winding streets.

Having pushed activists back to the Old Steine, they were joined by 100 other balaclava-clad protesters by the Royal Albion Hotel.

With elderly couples watching on in horror from the hotel’s grand dining room, there was a sudden surge towards the Lanes.

“Nazi scum off our streets, ” was met with chants of “no surrender” as the outnumbered nationalists, made their move.

A glass bottle from 30 feet away caught one of the “patriots” flush on the head.

But this time the police were quickly on the scene.

Horses charged down the narrow Lanes to separate the two opposing sides.

On the seafront, the official marchers were moving along Kings Road, kettled by scores of officers, while hundreds of protestors holding placards gathered behind the barricades on the promenade.

Some marchers, who were waving St George’s flags and swapping insults with the anti-fascists, were hit with stones and coins.

As the parade moved past, scuffles broke out in the crowd between small pockets of flag-waving March for England supporters and anti-fascists, leaving watching children in tears.

In The Lanes, violent clashes continued as police struggled to get to grips with the whereabouts of splinter groups.

A dozen March for England protesters goaded activists in East Street.

Outnumbered ten to one, officers attempted to escort them away.

But as activists chased them down one of the narrow historic lanes, 15 nationalists came from nowhere. Clenched fists swinging, three or four were knocked to the ground.

Police charged towards them and the wounded were carried out by their friends.

One woman, no older than 25, was left with blood pouring from her nose and mouth.

Her friends ushered her into the nearby Lush cosmetics store where she temporarily suppressed her cries of pain so as not to intrude on the ongoing children’s party.

As the police horses rushed forward once more, the East Street resident Tarot card readers hurled obscenities at the nationalists.

Running battles continued into the early evening as splinter groups tracked each other through the city.

But with the light starting to fade and activists returning to their homes, the huge police operation was stepped down at around 6pm.

Superintendent Steve Whitton, the man in charge of policing the march, 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.

“I should especially like to thank residents, traders and visitors for their patience and co-operation and in particular our colleagues in local authorities, transport providers and other emergency services for their assistance.”


MP Urges rethink by police

In the midst of the protest, one city leader suggested the police approach to the March for England “hadn’t worked”.

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, questioned whether the march should have been allowed to happen on the beach.

She said: “We need to allow legitimate peaceful protest but I think the police need to look at why we are allowing people to come into the city just to be provocative.

“What you could do is find a place, perhaps away from the city centre, where the march could be more effectively contained.” Some of the marchers were ferried into the city on buses paid for by Sussex Police, a move that “crossed the line” according to Dr Lucas.

She said: “In times of austerity, that is the wrong thing to be doing. It needs to be looked at by the police and the local authority.” On Twitter, the Brighton and Hove Labour Party blamed the city council’s ruling Greens for allowing the protest to go ahead, suggesting the local authority should have used powers to ban it altogether.

But council leader Jason Kitcat insisted the decision to allow the march had been solely taken by Sussex Police.

He said: “In very limited circumstances, the police can ask the council to apply to government to ban the march.

“That’s an operational decision that is rightly taken by them and in this case that didn’t happen.

“But even if they had banned the march, they could not ban people’s freedom of assembly so they could still have come but in pockets all over the city, which would have been very hard to police.

“At least they knew exactly where people were.”

Superintendent Steve Whitton said: “I know that the operation caused disruption to the seafront, but I believe that the location enabled us to maintain a firm control on those who might have wished to bring violence and disorder to our city’s streets.”


Parade hits seafront traders

Traders suffered a “devastating day” on the sunniest weekend of the year as visitors were kept away from the seafront by huge steel barriers and long lines of police.

The seafront road between the Palace Pier and West Street was closed between 10am and 3pm.

Mark Grill, who runs a hair braiding and fabrics stall in East Street, said: “There has been no business. It’s been terrible.

“After the winter we’ve had everyone was hoping for a sunny day. We’ve got it but then all this has gone on.

“There has been next to nobody at all this afternoon.”

A seafront trader, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s been a nightmare. I don’t see why they had to close the beach.

“We have had barely any customers for hours on what should be the busiest day of the year for us so far.

“The winter was terrible and this is just another blow.”