Around 1,000 police officers from all over the country will be on duty in Sheffield today in a bid to prevent potential clashes between rival protest groups gathering in the city centre at the same time.
It is thought that around 3,000 rival protesters could be in the city centre today, with both the English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism planning gatherings.
Right wing EDL members, including leader Tommy Robinson, are planning to lay a wreath at the war memorial in Barker’s Pool in memory of murdered soldier Drummer Lee Rigby, who was stabbed to death in Woolwich last month.
The group is returning to the city after being prevented from laying a wreath last weekend by UAF members, who blocked the rival group’s way.
UAF members are attending an event at the Peace Gardens at the same time, aimed at celebrating Sheffield’s multiculturalism, but there are fears some sections of the groups could clash.
World War Two veteran Ken Riley, 88, from Grimesthorpe, fought in Normandy and was shelled in Belgium. He is a staunch trade unionist and anti-fascism campaigner – and plans to attend today’s Barker’s Pool demonstrations in his blazer, beret and war medals.
He said: “All those years ago we went to war to defeat fascism and today it is rearing its ugly head again.
“We have got to stop it – the radicalism on both sides – or it will be the same trouble all over again.
“I am concerned for future generations, and I am concerned World War III will break out, starting in the Middle East.
“The fascists want crushing just like the hate preachers and radicals want crushing, trying to create a world divided simply on religion. World war could certainly happen again.”
Superintendent Colin McFarlane, who is overseeing the policing operation, said: “We are prepared and have a policing operation of a considerable size, with between 1,000 police working from forces as far away as Northumbria and South Wales.
“However, we need to be clear other parts of South Yorkshire will have the same levels of policing as any other Saturday – we are not withdrawing resources from anywhere else in South Yorkshire.
“We have cancelled leave to achieve the figures.”
He said police chiefs and senior representatives from all the groups gathering in Sheffield today had worked together to agree where the protests would take place.
He urged residents not to avoid the area.
“My message to people coming into the city centre to shop is please do. All the shops are open as usual apart from one or two,” he added.
“My message to those who are coming in to be part of the events is that the police will support you and facilitate your lawful right to assemble, however, that comes with a condition that it stays peaceful.”
He said mobile CCTV units would be used to monitor the protesters and troublemakers would be dealt with on the day or identified from footage afterwards.