Police officers were forced to raise their batons and dodge missiles hurled at them when violence flared after a breakaway group of EDL supporters left an organised march in Rotherham today.
The 200-strong splinter group left the march after metal barriers designed to guide EDL members along a pre-arranged route were knocked to the ground.
There was speculation among the masses that the flashpoint involved EDL supporters and members of a rival group.
But with 1,500 police officers on duty in and around Rotherham today order was restored within around 15 minutes and the march continued to Rotherham’s Main Street police station, as planned, where a rally was held.
Officers were drafted in from police forces across the country including West Midlands, Warwickshire, West Mercia, Staffordshire, the Met, Norfolk, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, South Wales, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Northumbria, Cleveland, Durham, North Yorkshire, Humberside, West Yorkshire, North Wales and Cumbria.
South Yorkshire officers had their rest days and leave cancelled to boost numbers.
Police chiefs estimate that there were 800 members of the public organised in today’s EDL march, which started at Rotherham Town Hall at 1.30pm.
It was organised in the wake of a damning report which revealed 1,400 children were abused in the town by largely Pakistani men over a 16 year period.
Police and council officials failed to take action because of sensitivities around the ethnicity of the offenders.
Officers in riot gear lined the route of the march and helped protect council and police buildings, which were surrounded by steel barriers.
The police helicopter monitored the crowds from above.
EDL supporters from across the country took part in the demonstration - one of the EDL’s largest for years.
At the same time Unite Against Fascism held a counter protest at All Saints Square.
Organisers called for a ‘peaceful protest’ but some stewards were left irate at fireworks being set off and people deliberately trying to breach the police line at the head of the march.
Andrew Edge, a father-of-eight, whose mum is from Rotherham, set up an EDL camp outside the town’s police station following the publication of the scathing report into child sexual exploitation in the town 18 days ago.
The 42-year-old said: “I am here because something has to be done about this, we need justice for the 1,400 victims.
“One of the main aims of the camp and the march is to raise awareness of what has happened and to force Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright out.”
The Commissioner, who was a councillor with responsibility for children’s services between 2005 and 2010, came in for strong criticism at today’s event.
The crowd repeatedly chanted ‘Shaun Wright Out’ and during public speeches at the rally he was branded a ‘disgrace’.
Serina Chapman, aged 30, travelled from Leicester to take part in the march.
“I hope this will get everyone to stand up and listen.
I think the Government should have let us know what was happening a long time ago - they knew it, they covered it up.
“What else are they not telling us?”
Mum-of-one Samantha Burton, 22, from Eastwood, Rotherham, gathered outside the Town Hall before the march with her daughter, who was in a pushchair.
She said she wants to leave Rotherham in the wake of the sex abuse scandal.
“I think what has happened over the years is disgusting, something should have been done about it, it’s wrong, so wrong,” she added.
“I would not like to think my little girl will be growing up round here with all this going on. I want to leave to get here away from it all.”
Tony Chapman, who owns the Whistlestop Sweet Shop in Rotherham town centre, said: “Rotherham has a chance to lead the way - anyone who things this is not happening in their town is disillusioned.
“We need to decide what it is that we need to do to move forward.”
Police chiefs today issued a ‘unreserved apology’ to victims of child sexual exploitation the force had ‘let down’ over the years.
They said four arrests had been made, with three men - from Newark, Cambridge and Nottingham, arrested in Wickersley on suspicion of going equipped to commit crime.
Another man, aged 19 and from Rotherham, was arrested for a pubic order offence.
All are being held in custody.
They said that they had maintained ‘control’ of the situation in Rotherham today.
Once the full cost of the policing operation is worked out, bosses may apply to the Home Office for funding.