Dear Mr Levack
Thank you for your response to our open letter of 3rd September (1). Following the events of yesterday I feel it necessary to respond and for reasons of transparency and openness - publicly.
I was personally present in the city centre yesterday afternoon in order to witness for myself what happened and to evaluate how the EDL behaved.
In your response to our original letter you said that the police had received no notification of a march from the EDL and I therefore presume that the march they undertook from Broad Street to the city centre was illegal. I was wondering if anyone had been charged in relation to this. There is plenty of photographic evidence of EDL supporters with banners and placards clearly undertaking an illegal march, some banners proclaiming 'no more mosques'- surely a case of 'religious aggravation.' I also presume - following your comments - that now there is a history of them attempting such marches in our city you will, if they attempt to return, be more willing to follow the Bedfordshire Police example in banning them.
Secondly you stated that West Midlands Police would arrest and prosecute wherever there is evidence of racially or religiously aggravated offenses taking place in our city. Apart from the incident mentioned above I personally witnessed such offenses taking place yesterday in the area of Bennett’s Hill and New Street when members of the EDL broke out of Bennett’s Bar where they were being corralled by the police. They came down a backstreet throwing bottles and taunting, with Islamophobic and racist abuse, a group of Muslim youths present on New Street. The officers who were present - in the immediate vicinity - took no immediate action and when I later, twice, approached an officer who had described himself to the groups of youths as 'the officer in charge of the area' - saying I was happy to make a statement as to what I had seen - he seemed disinterested to say the least.
I notice also that The Sunday Mercury carries a report that corroborates my experience of hearing EDL supporters chanting racist and Islamophobic chants when it says that earlier in Broad Street they 'yelled insults against Allah and Islam.' I wonder if anyone has been charged in relation to these incidents. I was also personally handed a leaflet by EDL supporters when I was earlier in the area of Bennett’s Bar which stated ' “Islam is a threat to us all. Don’t let this oppressive religion go unchallenged. Time to make stand”, putting paid to the claim that the EDL are merely against what they call 'Islamic Extremism' and again, surely running close to religious aggravation. I was also witness later in the afternoon to Muslim citizens of Birmingham being told to move in an aggressive manner by your own officers in order not to 'aggravate' the EDL as they were being shipped away from Lancaster Circus. I have also seen evidence of said EDL supporters making offensive gestures of an extreme nature out of the windows of the buses as they passed by Muslim citizens on the street.
It is apparent that the police were unable to restrict the EDL in the way you claimed confidently that you would and the lack of decisive action to seek a banning order in the first place led to citizens of Birmingham being racially and religiously abused, frightened in their own city centre when many of them were simply out for an afternoon's Saturday shopping. I also noticed that things got so out of your control, that it appears, the only option was to hold the EDL in Bennett’s bar where they were able to drink, surely a recipe for further trouble. Furthermore when police put them on some of our local buses to ship them elsewhere in the city I have personally seen evidence showing that they proceeded to seriously vandalise these buses and so again because of the police authority’s insistence on 'upholding their right to protest' the people of Birmingham suffer the consequences.
I hope you can now agree with us that the EDL are not a legitimate political group deserving their right to protest but a racist group attempting to whip up religious hatred and animosity and should not be allowed to come and further disrupt and jeopardise the good community relations of our multi cultural city
I await your reply forthwith
Revd Ray Gaston
Inter Faith Tutor & Enabler
Queens Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education
Birmingham District of The Methodist Church
Birmingham B13 2QJH
(1)For a copy of the original Open Letter from The Birmingham District of The Methodist Church visit http://interfaithenabler.blogspot.com/2009/09/not-in-birmingham.html
The Stirrer published the letter on 9th September and the Birmingham Post on 10th, as of Tuesday 15th September still no comment from the police to me directly but again the Stirrer carries a response from the West Midlands Police to critics here