A huge policing operation costing hundreds of thousands of pounds is being finalised as the English Defence League plans its second Sheffield protest in a week.
Police are meeting with council emergency planning officials today to finalise plans for the event on Saturday – which is set to involve more than 600 members of the far right organisation.
In addition, at least 2,000 anti-fascist protesters are set to hold a rival demonstration.
The EDL has decided to hold a second ‘peaceful walk and wreath laying’ in memory of murdered soldier, Drummer Lee Rigby after last Saturday’s event was frustrated by Unite Against Fascism demonstrators blocking its members’ path.
EDL leader Tommy Robinson is planning to attend.
All police leave has been cancelled and officers are being brought in from other counties to help maintain public order.
South Yorkshire Police has stressed its objective that it wants to ensure peace prevails and that normal activities in the city centre can continue as usual.
The Star understands one plan for police tactics could include fencing off part of Barker’s Pool around the war memorial.
Police would escort EDL members to the square from the rail station, allow them to lay their wreath and lead them out again – with barriers and lines of uniformed officers to keep them apart from Unite Against Fascism demonstrators.
UAF has been asked to hold its counter demonstration at the Peace Gardens but senior officials have fears that police lines could be overrun if numbers of protesters top 3,000 and violence flares between the two sides.
Chief Inspector Colin McFarlane, of South Yorkshire Police, said: “We are in negotiations with both groups. Nothing has yet been decided in terms of tactics and these will be finalised in due course.
“The number of police on duty will be into the hundreds and all leave has been cancelled at South Yorkshire Police. We are also asking other forces for help.
“We will be working to ensure that, as far as possible, it is a peaceful day. The aim is for those who want to exercise their democratic right to protest to be able to do so but other people to be able to go about their business.
“There will be a robust police presence but we are not suggesting at present that anyone should close their business.”
A meeting between police, council emergency planners and Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright is due to take place today – as well as a meeting between police and city centre retailers.
Mr Wright said: “I am satisfied that the police will have a good plan. This event will cost a tremendous amount of public resources to police, which I would rather spend on something else.
“But there is no law to ban it and the main issue is to make sure it passes peacefully. The police have a duty to facilitate these events.”
Coun Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield Council cabinet member for communities, made a plea for calm.
He said: “My plea to both groups is that in Sheffield we have never experienced anything like this. We don’t want a divided community and if the EDL want to lay a wreath, that should be allowed. Both sides should show restraint.”
Mohammad Ali, chairman of Pakistan Muslim Centre, said: “The EDL coming once should have been sufficient. Their return and the scale of protest could tear the city apart.
“People in Sheffield from all backgrounds have been living closely together for a long time. We don’t want division which could destroy that harmony.
“Many communities have laid wreaths in memory of Mr Rigby, including our own in Sheffield. If the EDL wants to do that, that’s fine. But it must be peaceful.”