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EDL: Exploiting the Defenseless League

This photograph was taken at the Justice for Charlene event.


I usually take great satisfaction in writing my blog. Whether it’s exposing bigotry and lies, or debunking Islamophobic myths. Even when researching pretty unsavoury topics and material it’s always in the knowledge that the end result will be worthwhile. But this one is a bit different. I’ve been pontificating over what to call it, what conclusions to draw, whether it’s wise to give my opinion or just report known facts, and even whether to bother writing it up at all. The reasons for this are varied and I’ll come to them shortly. This post is to address the case of Charlene Downes. A teenage girl who is missing, presumed dead. No body has been found and no one has been convicted. Two men were charged with murder and disposal of Charlene’s body, but the case collapsed due to the police handling. As a result we have a grieving family without closure and men accused of a heinous crime walking free, still under intense suspicion but unable to clear their names. There are two groups of people not able to continue with their lives in peace due to the incompetence of the police. Had the case been handled more professionally we may be in a situation where we have murderers behind bars and a family with peace of mind and a sense of justice.

My reluctance to write this piece revolves around its connection with recent demonstrations and campaigns involving the English Defence League. They have adopted the case, with the blessings of the Downes family it must be said, and recently held a demonstration in Charlene’s hometown of Blackpool. The protest was held with the supposed purpose of highlighting the police handling and demanding the case be re-opened. If you’re not familiar with the case you may be asking why the EDL have chosen this particular missing person to campaign for. The clue might be found in the fact that the accused men are immigrants. Iyad Albattikhi, a Jordanian, who ran the Funny Boyz take-away and was accused of the murder, and Mohammad Raveshi from Iran, the landlord and accused of aiding with the disposal of Charlene’s body.

I’d like to make it known that before embarking on the research for this case, I informed EDL supporters and sympathisers via social networking sites that I would be blogging about this. I requested any information on what the EDL had done in real terms to achieve justice for Charlene. The response was underwhelming to say the least. The only answer I received was that they were giving the case publicity and giving moral support to the family. If there are any supporters reading this I urge you to read the entire post and leave comments if I have omitted any important information.

Eventhough there has been no mention of the accused being members of a particular faith group, the assumption is that they are Muslim. Considering their names and origins it’s a fair assumption, but with certain sections of the media so ready to demonise Muslims it’s strange that their faith hasn’t been mentioned once. There has been no indication that they attend a mosque or quotes from people from the Muslim community, which is par for the course in instances of ‘Muslim crimes’. They may well be Muslims in an ethnic or cultural sense but that’s as far as any assumption can stretch without evidence. Not that it really matters as any claims that Islam in any way condones or encourages such behaviour are extremely badly informed.

The adoption of this case came at around the same time there were high profile cases of pimping gangs of Pakistani origin in the North West and Midlands. This was highlighted by Jack Straw as a cultural problem, and gave rise to the now infamous ‘Muslamic Rape Gang’ meme. Also in the North West the EDL have identified a spate of hit and run incidents involving immigrants as ‘road jihad’ or attributed it to the laughable phenomenon of ‘sudden jihad syndrome’. Rather than view these as simply criminal activities, they have become part of the ‘Muslim problem’. In the case of Charlene Downes, the EDL very much see it as an extension of the ‘Muslim men preying on underage white girls’ theme.

The problem for me is that raising any doubt about the EDL’s motives gives them the opportunity to accuse me of siding with paedophiles, killers and rapists, which is their crude way of shutting down any considered debate. Doubting the guilt of the accused will be viewed as traitorous and tasteless. The fact that the Downes family have welcomed the support of the EDL will also make me look heartless and spiteful. If they are getting comfort from the EDL why intrude? Criticism from the likes of me is just sour grapes at the EDL actually getting good press isn’t it? But that’s exactly my reason for doing this. Despite the conflicting emotions, I keep getting the overwhelming feeling that I’m witnessing the cynical exploitation of a tragedy for publicity. Not just publicity, but also for profit and the furthering of their divisive agenda. I have also been hesitant due to the fact that I have three young daughters myself, and I can only imagine the extent of the pain Charlene’s parents have experienced. But it angers me too much to think that they are oblivious to the hidden agenda of the EDL and will ultimately be forgotten about when they decide to move on to another cause.

Before continuing with the Downes story I want to touch briefly on the issue of these alleged Pakistani grooming gangs. It was the Times that decided to approach this controversial angle but it’s reporting may have been slightly selective. Libby Brooks addressed this possibility in her Guardian article:

But what has not emerged is any consistent evidence to suggest that Pakistani Muslim men are uniquely and disproportionately involved in these crimes, nor that they are preying on white girls because they believe them to be legitimate sexual quarry, as is now being suggested.

The Times investigation is based around 56 men convicted in the Midlands and north of England since 1997, 50 from Muslim backgrounds. Granted, such prosecutions are notoriously difficult to sustain, but, nonetheless, this is a small sample used to evidence the “tidal wave” of offending referred to by unnamed police sources. Martin Narey, the chief executive of Barnardo’s, which has run projects in the areas concerned for many years, tells me that, while he is pleased to see open discussion of child sexual exploitation, he worries that “decent Pakistani men will now be looked at as potential child abusers”. He insists: “This is not just about Pakistani men, and not just about Asian men. And it is happening all over the country.”

Narey also refutes the allegation that Muslim men are grooming white girls because of cultural assumptions about their sexual availability, as girls from minority backgrounds have been similarly abused.

Thus no official data exists on the ethnic or religious background of perpetrators of this form of child abuse, and local charities have stated publicly that they do not consider it a race issue. But it is worth noting that, when asked by the Times to collate its recent work according to ethnicity, Engage – based in Blackburn and one of the largest multi-agency organisations working on this issue – found that in the past year that 80% of offenders were white. Most child-sex offenders in Britain are white males, usually acting alone. In a random sample of 269 individual cases in which the internet was used to lure and groom victims, more than 95 per cent of the convicted offenders were white men aged from 18 to 70.

They were labourers and petrol pump attendants, architects and university professors: the widest possible spectrum of white British society.

There is an ignoble tradition of racialising criminality in this country. But even those who do want further investigation into the apparent preponderance of Asian perpetrators tell me that this is not about cultural expectations regarding the sexual susceptibility of white females but rather about opportunity and vulnerability, especially of young people within the care system.

The efforts of the Times to stand up this investigation are certainly considerable: selectively quoting or misquoting some groups, and inventing a category of “on-street grooming” that does not exist in law and was not recognised by any of the agencies I spoke to. It is also worth asking how responsible it is to provide ammunition to the violent racist extremists already active in these areas on such flawed evidence.

Meanwhile, the sunlight of investigative inquiry has yet to shine on our legal system which, all agencies agree, fails to cater to the needs of children who – groomed into acquiescence by practised abusers of all creeds and colours – don’t present as the perfect victims our limited version of justice demands.

Unsurprisingly the EDL have used the Times article to say ‘I told you so’ about Muslims and an excuse to demonstrate in Oldham and hold a flash demo in Derby where they marched through a pedestrianised area chanting ‘Muslim paedos off our streets’. Adding further ammunition was a claim from a West Mercia Chief Inspector that:

“These girls are being passed around and used as meat. To stop this type of crime you need to start everyone talking about it but everyone’s been too scared to address the ethnicity factor. No-one wants to stand up and say that Pakistani guys in some parts of the country are recruiting young white girls and passing them around their relatives for sex, but we need to stop being worried about the racial complication.”

He seems to be suggesting that this is a problem for the Pakistani community in particular, and the victims have been chosen on racial grounds. Not being Pakistani, a pimp or policeman in these areas I can’t possibly know how accurate this claim is. But the suggestion that Pakistanis are any more likely to commit this type of crime, and their community is any more likely to turn a blind eye than any other ethnicity or community seems a dubious one to me. To insinuate that this is not a matter of criminality but one of culture and race is dangerous and unwise in my opinion. Even if there was evidence to suggest the issue warranted investigation, it can be done without the glare of the mainstream media. It’s not an issue of political correctness or appeasement as the right wingers would say, but about addressing the matter sensitively, discreetly and in conjunction with the community in question. When this particular section of our society is under increasing scrutiny, discrimination and profiling, and with far right groups mobilising and acting on a frequent basis, this would surely be a more beneficial approach?

Back to Charlene Downes. She was 14 years old when she disappeared in 2003. She left her home to meet friends but failed to return home by the morning. The police were notified and the investigation began.

Julie Bindel from The Guardian:

“Charlene was last seen in the town centre hanging around the alleyway that runs between the shops on Talbot Road and Clifton Street, which is full of fast-food takeaway outlets. During the search, more than 3,000 people were interviewed. Early on in the investigation, police became aware that Charlene, and a number of other girls, had been targeted by abusers active in the town. It emerged that the girls had been swapping sex for food, cigarettes and affection. Police are certain that Charlene was sexually abused by one or more men, over a period of time before she went missing, and that her death (they advised her parents in 2005 that they were convinced their daughter had been murdered) is linked to the abuse.”

From The Times story:

“Charlene Downes and her friends called it “P*ki Alley”. When they were hungry, wanted cigarettes or alcohol, or needed top-up credit for their mobile phones, they knew where to go because you could find almost anything down the alleyway. For a price. What Lancashire Constabulary uncovered when Charlene went missing from home in 2003, however, was almost a factory production line of child abuse involving the systematic grooming and sexual exploitation of dozens of young girls by a closely linked group of men.

The force’s initial “problem scan” identified more than 60 local girls, the youngest aged 11 but most aged from 13 to 15, as being “exposed and vulnerable” to men operating from a cluster of “honey-pot” locations in the town centre, all takeaway food premises. Children, many from troubled homes or in the care system, had been befriended by older men who flattered their desire to be treated as adults, showering them with gifts and affection before using them for sex both inside and outside the takeaway outlets.

The scale of the criminality was so disturbing that one of Britain’s first multi-agency child sexual exploitation projects, Awaken, was swiftly established in Blackpool to target offenders and offer support to vulnerable girls. A decision seems to have been taken at an early stage that one aspect of the abuse made the police findings too sensitive to be revealed publicly. In 2007, an unpublished report by police and local authority representatives from Awaken stated: “Analysis showed that in relation to the takeaways, non-white adult males working alone or within friendship groups were principally perpetrating the exploitation.”

In Blackpool, many of the owners and workers in 11 “honey-pot” food premises identified by police were of Middle Eastern origin. Charlene knew several of them. A young woman who knew Charlene, and whose identity The Times has agreed to protect, was 13 when she first came into contact with several of Blackpool’s takeaway workers. She has not forgotten the initial allure.

“They were older than you and you thought they were your friends. It all seemed so glamorous and exciting and young girls were drawn into it: the flash cars, the money, the alcohol, free food, sometimes drugs. She named two men in particular. Both are still closely linked to separate food outlets in the town. One “was married with kids, had a really young English girlfriend on the side but still chased after other young girls.

“He was a filthy old man. He used to offer me drugs because he said they would loosen me up. He made my flesh crawl.”

The other man “would say some awful things about white girls” yet was happy to proposition “literally every young pretty girl who’d hit puberty that came into his shop.

“He had no respect for us, the way we dressed, the way we drank, how forward we were. It was as though white girls were asking for it. He’d say that all English girls were slags, unlike Muslim women who wore the hijab and walked five steps behind their husband.”

Police started a murder inquiry when David Cassidy, a former friend of Mr Albattikhi, said the accused’s brother had told him the schoolgirl had been strangled and chopped up.

The link between Charlene and the accused had been made and a covert operation was initiated.

Detectives later bugged both Mr Raveshi’s home and car with secret listening devices and claimed the defendants could be heard on the tapes discussing her murder, with references to eating her body and a burial place.

Miss Turner told the court she considered Charlene to be her best friend and often went to visit takeaway workers at an alleyway at the rear of Talbot Road. She said: “We went there between 5pm and 7pm quite a few times. “We used to get free food from the people who worked there. We also used to hang around the arcades too.” But when prompted by defence barrister, Ian Goldrein QC, about a statement she made in November 2003, she admitted she vaguely remembered saying Charlene used “to snog some of the takeaway owners” and gave them sexual favours in return for free food. Miss Turner also told the jury she and Miss Downes were friendly with a number of Asian men in the area, one of who was Albattikhi.

The Independent:

During the trial, the jury was played taped conversations in which Mr Albattikhi, who ran a takeaway restaurant in the seaside town, joked that he killed the girl, that she was “chopped up” and her body had “gone in the kebabs”. In another excerpt, he said: “I killed her, I killed a girl … I was just angry.” His co-accused was heard on the tapes saying: “There is nothing left of her. She was here, she died, there really is nothing.”

The jury failed to reach a verdict. A retrial was set for April 2008. However, while preparing for the second trial, senior police officers raised issues with the surveillance evidence, much of which had been obtained by a police informant, David Cassidy, who had worn a wire-tap device when speaking to Mr Albattikhi and Mr Raveshi.

The IPCC said that Lancashire Constabulary’s investigation was “handled poorly and unprofessionally” and that the evidence contained a “catalogue of errors which undermined the court case”. Seven detectives will be disciplined.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was notified, as was the IPCC. The second trial was abandoned when the CPS offered no evidence against the men. Mr Albattikhi and Mr Raveshi, who say they have never met Charlene, were released.

Yesterday, after an 18-month investigation, the IPCC revealed that the flaws in the evidence included the fact that much of the recorded tape and video evidence was not properly transcribed, that the officers working on the investigation were “inexperienced and untrained”and that the informant, Mr Cassidy, was not properly briefed and so therefore asked the suspects leading questions.

In his opening address to the jury last month, Tim Holroyde, for the prosecution, claimed that a witness had heard Jordanian-born Mr Albattikhi joke with fellow takeaway employees about how the teenager had been chopped up, and how her body “had gone into the kebabs”. Mr Albattikhi, of Blackpool, denies murdering Charlene while Mr Reveshi, also of Blackpool, denies disposing of her body.

Ian Goldrein, QC, for the defence of Mr Albattikhi, questioned the integrity of the tape recordings, which took Detective Sergeant Jan Beasant 2,400 hours to transcribe over a two-year period.

He said that neither of the transcripts read by the defendants’ lawyers included anything about bones, a mincing machine or blood.

Mr Goldrein asked the witness why he waited months after the conversation with Tariq before he told police. Mr Cassidy said, “Because I did not know if what was being said to me that night was true. I had to determine whether it was hearsay or gossip.”

Det Sgt Jan Beasant spent two years and around 2,500 hours listening to the contents of the tapes but such was the poor sound quality that much of the content was hard to decipher at the trial with sound experts and police disagreeing over what was actually said.

John Bromley-Davenport QC, defending Mr Raveshi, claimed Det Sgt Beasant was totally unqualified for the task of listening to the tapes and already knew a huge amount about the case.

Ian Goldrein QC, representing Mr Albattikhi, accused Mr Cassidy of telling a pack of lies and that his evidence was unreliable because he had a lengthy criminal record for dishonesty.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for 49 hours before they conceded they could not reach a verdict on either defendant.

On his release Mr Raveshi, who like Mr Albattikhi spent two-and-a-half years on remand in jail, said the case against him was ‘shameful’ and indicated he would sue police.

The tragedy has also taken its toll on the Downes family. A week after the trial collapsed, Karen Downes was arrested for stabbing her husband, Robert, during an argument. He did not press charges, saying he understood his wife lashed out because of grief and distress.

Last month, Charlene’s older sister Emma, 24, went on trial for racially assaulting Iyad Albattikhi’s brother, Tariq, at a nightclub. The charge was dropped when she admitted a lesser charge of common assault, accepting she slapped the man once. She was stopped from doing so a second time when he grabbed her hand and told her: “It’s got nothing to do with me.”

Taking all of the above into consideration, all that can be reliably said is that Charlene and her friends had become involved with older men who worked in the various take-aways, been manipulated and taken advantage of, and now she’s missing presumed dead. It can’t be said for certain that any of the accused were involved in this activity. It is also pretty certain that fast food workers were supplying teenage girls with alcohol, drugs, food and other goods in return for sexual favours. Again, no hard evidence has been secured implicating the accused in this behaviour. Although the Times did report:

At the time of his trial Mr Albattikhi also faced a charge of raping a drunken young woman. The charge was subsequently dropped. Six young female witnesses appeared before the court to describe separate incidents of alleged indecent behaviour towards them. Two made claims against Mr Albattikhi and four against Mr Raveshi. In total, the jury was told of ten separate incidents involving Mr Raveshi and girls aged from 13 to 15. The prosecution claimed that he had been “grooming these girls, touching them, buying them gifts, to see how far he could get with them”. Girls spoke of Charlene “snogging some of the takeaway owners” in an alleyway to get free food, kissing Asian workers for free chips and often getting into cars outside the takeaways. The two defendants, who denied any knowledge of Charlene, also rejected every claim made against them by the witnesses.

You can argue that there is no smoke without fire, but without sufficient evidence no conviction can be made. Another fact is that the handling of the investigation was such that one officer will faced a disciplinary hearing, one has received a written warning and five will be given words of advice. Two other detectives retired before the investigation was completed and so cannot now be dealt with by the IPCC. A 10th, who has also retired but is still employed in a civilian capacity, will have his position considered. As a result the Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled that covert surveillance evidence gathered against the two main suspects in the case was flawed. This means that the evidence can never be submitted in court. To add insult to injury both defendants were awarded £250,000 in compensation.

But this isn’t where Charlene’s story begins, nor is it the full story of Blackpool.

Charlene was from a loving family, but, as social services noted prior to her going missing, a chaotic one. At the time that Charlene disappeared, a homeless man whom a family member had invited to stay was revealed to be a sex offender against young children. Her daughter “fell in with the wrong crowd”, whom she banned from the house. Eventually, Charlene was excluded from school for truanting. “When she was 13 she started going off the rails. I don’t know why.”

Charlene, was the third of four children born to Robert and Karen Downes. The family moved to Blackpool from the West Midlands in 1999, when she was 10. A serious case review would later reveal that the family had been known to statutory and voluntary agencies in both Coventry and Walsall, where “there were continued child protection concerns”.

In Blackpool, reports were logged “of violent incidents in the home, lack of adequate supervision… and some incidents… very suggestive of a risk… of sexual exploitation”. Charlene could have been helped, the review suggested, but a plan “to commence care proceedings should there be a continued lack of improvement to the quality and effectiveness of [her] parenting was lost sight of”. Frontline care staff, who displayed “a sense of helplessness and inability to act decisively”, also “lacked sufficient awareness of the risk… particularly in the area of exposure to sexual exploitation”.

Due to the vagueness of the nature of risk that Charlene was being exposed to, it would be wrong to speculate, and in no way am I suggesting that her parents were responsible. But the fact that she was exposed to an individual who was a child sex offender and she was known to be at continued risk should hopefully have been explored and investigated fully prior to the surveillance of Albattikhi and Raveshi. 

Regarding Blackpool itself:

There is also a more disturbing sub-culture alive in the town, exposed after the murder in 2003 of 14-year-old Charlene Downes who vanished after meeting friends in a bar. Her body was never found. Blackpool is home to about 800 sex offenders, proportionately more than anywhere else in the country, according to local police. Det Insp Tony Baxter says they come to prey on children and runaways – who often flee to Blackpool – knowing they can hide in cheap B&Bs, find cash-in-hand work and melt into the crowds during busy periods.

Seaside towns have long been recognised as something of a magnet for child sex offenders and Blackpool is not alone in attracting male, usually white, loners who prowl its amusement arcades, bars and takeaways to target children of both sexes.

Her sad story was of a child whose home life was so chaotic that the night-time streets, no matter how dangerous, held the promise of escape, excitement and companionship.

Blackpool has the highest level of alcohol-related mortality in England, levels of domestic violence at twice the national average and the highest proportion of heroin and crack addicts in northwest England. There are pockets of severe deprivation.

The Guardian:

In the search for Charlene, the police uncovered what was a barely hidden secret – endemic child sexual abuse and prostitution in the seaside town famous for its 1960s image of “kiss me quick” hats and sticks of rock. The Blackpool of childhood holidays past is still recognisable, but it has a dark underbelly of sexual exploitation. Before Charlene’s disappearance, this epidemic in Blackpool has been hidden, disguised by the party atmosphere and happy-looking kids with bucket and spades on the beach. “There have always been shocking levels of sexual abuse of children in this town,” says Sue McGurty, coordinator of Mothers of Sexually Abused Children (Mosac), “but before Charlene Downes went missing it was completely swept under the carpet.”

Seasonal employment in the town’s tourist industry and the large stock of low-cost, privately rented accommodation mean there is a constant flow of people moving into and out of Blackpool. Poverty levels are high: Blackpool is the 12th poorest area in the country. The number of children on Blackpool’s child protection register who are vulnerable to, or experiencing, sexual abuse is, at 16%, almost twice the national average, as is the number of children living in care homes or foster families. It is one of the only places in the country where girls do worse at school than boys. The suicide rate among the 15 to 19 age group in Blackpool is eight times higher than the UK average. Underage and unprotected sex is rife. HIV cases rose by 50% between 2001 and 2004; one in 12 girls is pregnant before the age of 18. A report published around the time of Charlene’s disappearance put this down to the resort’s “carnivalistic and hedonistic atmosphere”.

Children are attracted to the bright lights of Blackpool, so the town receives its fair share of runaways. And there are always plenty of sexual predators waiting for them to arrive, knowing they will be cold, hungry and homeless; probably already victims of abuse. On average, two more young children are found to be homeless in Blackpool every month.

There are approximately 800 convicted high-risk sex offenders living in Blackpool. Many choose to move there after their release from prison. “Why do so many child abusers want to live in Blackpool?” asks Wendy Shepherd from children’s charity Barnardos. “Alongside the increase in child sexual exploitation there is a marked increase in the sex industry in Blackpool, and sex tourism masquerading as stag weekends. Questions need to be asked about the links.”

There is some evidence that disproportionate numbers of men from migrant communities are involved in the abuse of girls. Opportunism is one possible explanation, according to a police officer who worked on missing children cases. “A number of them work illegally in the takeaways, which is where a lot of the vulnerable girls either work for pocket money, or hang out.”

Given Charlene’s history and vulnerability, it appears that tragically, Blackpool was the worst possible place to relocate to. To sum up my opinion on the case itself, the only thing I can say for certain is that the local constabulary have failed the Downes family badly. Regarding the guilt of the accused it’s impossible to say. The evidence and witness on which the case hinged were found to be completely unreliable, and any further evidence has not been heard due to this. Again, this is a result of the police handling. Should the case be re-opened? I don’t know the legal system well enough to say whether this is possible. New evidence would be needed to put the accused back on trial and unless there is a fresh investigation this won’t happen. I would like the case to be re-opened for the sake of the family and the accused. Until these men are found innocent or guilty in a court of law the lives of Charlene’s family and the two men are in limbo. One party living in perpetual grief the other stigmatised and living under suspicion for the rest of their lives.

As far as the EDL are concerned these men are guilty, and they may well be, the investigation being so flawed we don’t know. By selecting the incriminating ‘evidence’ and disregarding its unreliability and the verdict itself, they have reached their own decision on the guilt of the accused. Would they be quite so concerned if the accused were white Britons? Considering the EDL is a single issue organisation that target Muslims, my guess is no. An estimated 140,000 children go missing in the UK each year, many stay missing. A brief glance at the Missing Kids website will show you that Charlene Downes isn’t the only unsolved case of this nature. There’s no doubt in my mind that the EDL have chosen this particular case to further their cause and present themselves as a compassionate organisation. They have exploited vulnerable and desperate people and are misleading them. They will argue that they are giving the case publicity and bringing it back to the attention of the mainstream media. Unfortunately the violent reputation and unpleasant rhetoric of the EDL means that any publicity the case gets is going to be viewed with suspicion due to the group’s agenda and membership. No amount of protests will uncover new evidence, and with each protest costing the local police £100,000’s their actions are counter productive if anything.

I sincerely believe that there are a number of people within the EDL that think they are doing the right thing, and their intentions are genuine. But I also think they are being emotionally blackmailed and exploited by the leadership in the same manner the Downes family are. There is also a wealth of evidence available in the screenshots by ‘everything_edl’ linked below to show that a great deal of EDL members viewed the Blackpool demo as an opportunity for heavy drinking, settling personal vendettas and targeting the local Muslim community. Any concern for the Downes family was certainly secondary for a large number of supporters, and behaving with class and dignity was not on the agenda at all. If any proof is needed that this case has been used to make profit for the EDL there are also screenshots and analysis by ‘NototheEDL’ linked below. I have also included a link to the Casuals United shop which has been selling Charlene Downes memorial badges. They are priced at £2.99 with 50p going towards an as yet undecided memorial for Charlene. That’s right, only 25% goes to the bereaved family, the remainder stays within the EDL, a non-profit organisation. If every Blackpool attendee bought a badge that would mean a maximum of a not inconsiderable £1,500 for the family, but a whopping £4,500 for the EDL/Casuals Utd. Will this money be spent on lobbying, securing legal representation, a high-profile publicity campaign for Charlene or Stone Island clobber, court cases and class A narcotics for the EDL leadership? Call me a cynic but I know what my instinct is telling me.

As an aside. The Blackpool demo was relatively peaceful. See below for details of arrests. Don’t ask me why a human rights organisation member would need to carry an offensive weapon though.

Among the 10 arrested were three men from Merseyside – aged 27, 35 and 37 – who were detained on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly in a public place, along with a 26-year-old man from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

A 29-year-old man, from Blackburn, and a 36-year-old man, from Darwen, were arrested by British Transport Police for public order offences.

A 21-year-old man from Gateshead was arrested on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon.


Leagues Apart

I don’t really remember the exact moment the foul stench of the EDL’s particular brand of bigotry wafted into my consciousness. But I vaguely recall learning of their links to football hooliganism, and that they had formed to oppose Islamic extremists. In trying to pin down the precise time that proved the catalyst to my interest, I discovered that the watershed moment was probably due to a series of ‘anti-extremist’ marches held from April to August 2009, organised by a group called ‘March for England’. But there was no mention of the EDL at this point.

On the 10th of March 2009 the Royal Anglian Regiment, on their return from Afghanistan, were welcomed with a home coming parade in Luton. The march was marred by a demonstration by a hand full of Muslim men wielding offensive and inflammatory placards. This wasn’t an anti-war protest as such, but an intentionally tasteless piece of opportunism carried out by the Al-Muhajiroun group led by Anjem Choudary. Who were also unknown to me at the time. The first march took place in Luton under the guise of the ‘United People of Luton’ as a direct response to the disrespectful display from Choudary and his cohorts.

Learning that a man by the name of Tommy Robinson, who claimed to be the founder, was a Luton resident seemed to make sense. But knowing of the historic links between football firms and far right organisations, along with a natural leftist gut feeling of discomfort when minorities are targeted, my suspicion was aroused.

The spate of demonstrations continued with events in Birmingham and London. It appears that it’s around this time that the moniker ‘English Defence League’ was adopted, and picked up on. Further events took place in Birmingham (twice), London, Manchester, Leeds and Nottingham before the end of the year, all under the banner of the EDL.

The media coverage had been steadily increasing since the first article was published in April, with inevitable attention being drawn to possible links to the racist BNP, and due to the hooligan element, violent neo-Nazi organisations like Combat 18 and the National Front. In an attempt to distance themselves from this image, they held a press conference ahead of their Manchester demonstration, and proceeded to symbolically burn a Nazi flag. This is the first vivid memory I have of the EDL. Balaclava-clad men, burning a flag, in a sparse and dingy room.

It didn’t take a great deal of investigation to realise that my reluctance to give them the benefit of my doubt was justified. Not that it required a sixth sense, as a Google search at that time would have revealed images of men baring more than a passing resemblance to the sinister paramilitary terrorists of the IRA & UDA.

It was at this point I made a discovery that was to cement a special place in my life for the EDL. Being a Cardiff City supporter I’m no stranger to terrace culture and all that goes with it. Despite not taking part in football violence, it’s impossible to follow a club like Cardiff City and not be exposed to it at some stage. Even if you’re not a hooligan, you either know someone who is, have seen them in action, or read one of their inevitable biographies. The names of individuals, rival firms and infamous battles become part of club folklore.

I’d seen it mentioned on a Cardiff City message board, that one of the founding members of the EDL was a City fan and Soul Crew member. Whilst reading a blog post about one of the EDL marches, I followed a link that took me to an article on the Hope not Hate website that profiled the hooligan leaders. My heart sank when reading about Jeff Marsh, Casuals Utd and the part he’d played in forming a movement of this nature.

Cardiff City fans have had a bad reputation that’s followed us around ever since I can remember, and genuine, law abiding supporters have always suffered from guilt by association. Telling someone you were a Cardiff City supporter when meeting people usually elicited one of two responses. Aggression. Or fear. Neither particularly welcome when on holiday or a night out. It’s a stigma we’ve had to endure as fans and a club, and have made huge strides in eradicating. Seeing a convicted Cardiff hooligan playing a lead role in the group I was already developing an unhealthy hatred for was depressing. I was angry at them for the bigotry and hatred they were spreading, I was angry that they were using the beautiful game to spread their message and recruit, and angry that the name of my club and hometown was going to be part of it’s history.

That was over a year ago now, and a lot has happened in the meantime. Unfortunately we’ve seen a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment, and even more unfortunately, actions, due to the English Defence League and affiliated splinter groups. The right wing, mainstream media are doing their best to fan the flames with their anti-Muslim and anti-immigration scaremongering, whether they intend to or not.

Unfortunately they are tapping into a disillusioned and angry white working class, which now has a scapegoat to blame and a vent for their anger. How many of these are gullible kids being manipulated, or genuine racists playing the ‘Islam is not a race’ card, and hiding behind the ‘I’m not against all Muslims just the extremists’ fallacy, it’s impossible to tell. But my hope is that by exposing the lies for what they are, we can go some way to stemming the tide.

Even if convincing existing members and sympathisers that they are misguided is being optimistic, and a little naive. By challenging their misconceptions, prejudices and general bigotry, these racist organisations will realise they will not go unopposed.

The more scrutiny the EDL comes under, the more dirt gets uncovered, and their true motives will be laid bare for all to see. This, coupled with a clearer understanding between communities is what the anti-fascist and anti-racism movements in Britain are striving for, and what most decent people want.

The EDL has grown, but so has the opposition. I’m hoping maybe, even in just a small way, my hometown will be part of EDL history for another reason.

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