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Dover protests: Kent Police had duty to facilitate rallies which turned violent

Kent Police has rejected calls it should have banned opposing protests which descended into violence in Dover yesterday.

The force came in for fierce criticism after anti-fascist and right-wing groups clashed when planned rallies took place in the town centre.

Six people were hurt, nine were arrested and 20 weapons were confiscated during the confrontations, sparking claims the protests should never have been allowed to go ahead.

Police at the rally in January. Pic: @Kent_999s
Police at the rally in January. Pic: @Kent_999s

Leading the criticism was Deal and Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, who said it was "irresponsible and wrong to allow two opposing demonstrations to happen".

But Kent Police today said it had a "democratic responsibility" to facilitate the rallies.

Spokesman James Walker said: “The law places a clear obligation on public bodies, including the police, to facilitate peaceful protest.

"This is a democratic responsibility Kent Police takes seriously and follows the best traditions of British policing.

“The intelligence on yesterday’s protests in Dover suggested that protesters wished to march and that others wished to demonstrate against the march. It is the duty of the state to facilitate both.

“Kent Police’s role was to facilitate peaceful protest and minimise disruption to the local community. Acts that stepped outside of this were dealt with in a proportionate manner in line with the law.

“Kent Police spent a significant amount of time planning and preparing for the demonstrations, and had sufficient resources on duty to keep the public safe and to respond swiftly and effectively to spontaneous disorder.”

Police form a human line at protests in Dover in a previous protest. Pic: @Kent_999s
Police form a human line at protests in Dover in a previous protest. Pic: @Kent_999s

The far-right march was organised by the South East Alliance and attended by members of the National Front, displaying their bold red and black standards.

But the party’s South East organiser, Mike Easter, said members “defied their orders not to go”.

He too blamed police for not keeping order, claiming the force were “absolutely hopeless” during a similar conflict in September, sparking the official party stance not to attend any more events in Dover.

He said: “This is the fourth time in Dover where the police have completely lost it. That’s one of the reasons why we as a party don’t want to be involved with that sort of thing.

Blood pours down the face of injured man
Blood pours down the face of injured man

“If we could be assured that a demo was a proper demo, rather than a punch-up, we would go.

“After the last one down there I wrote to the police constable and said the police were very poor.

“You get, all around the country, different police forces and I can assure you, this sort of thing wouldn’t have happened in other areas.”

Mr Elphicke added further to his criticism today,claiming protestors were allowed to use Dover as a "battleground".

He told KentOnline: "Police have powers under the Public Order Act to stop demonstrations if they think that they're not in the public interest or if people are likely to get hurt.

"I think they should have used those powers and the protests should have been banned, because we had a situation where elderly people were terrified, caught up in the middle of it, families going about their shopping, traders trying to run a shop having a marauding mob running around outside.

Flares were let off by anti-fascist protestors
Flares were let off by anti-fascist protestors

"This was really terrifying, particularly as it ended in violence, as it was always going to.

"People got hurt, pavements were torn up and used as missiles.

"To allow this to go ahead was just so wrong and the police had a duty to protect the people of Dover.

"The front line police officers were very good but they were lions led by donkeys..." - MP Charlie Elphicke

"And to add insult to injury, these people are not from Dover, they're all from London.

"Dianne Abbot and her people are all from Hackney, there were trade unions from Camden, people from South London and they all came down and used Dover as a battleground, and that's just wrong and the police should not have allowed it to happen.

"The front line police officers were very good but they were lions led by donkeys.

"I'm not anti police, it was the operational managers who were at fault. This should never have been allowed to happen.

"How much is all this going to cost the police? How much to clean up? How much damage to people's cars? They're all questions I'm going to be asking next.

"This is the reason why they have made the wrong operational call. The district council is furious and I'm not going to let it go."

Kent Police offered the same response to Mr Easter’s criticism.

A total of 17 people were arrested, including seven at the demonstration itself.

Craig Knott, 35, of Crown Quay Lane, Sittingbourne, was later charged with possessing a locking knife. He has been bailed to appear before Folkestone magistrates on 29 February.

A 41-year-old man from Gillingham arrested on suspicion of possessing an offensive weapon has been bailed until Wednesday 2 March.

VIDEO: The protests in Dover

A 32-year-old man from Bristol in Gloucestershire arrested on suspicion of breaching the peace has been released without charge.

A 28-year-old man of no fixed address arrested on suspicion of a public order offence has been bailed until Monday 4 April.

A 24-year-old man of no fixed address arrested on suspicion of violent disorder has been bailed until Friday 15 April.

A 44-year-old man from Bridgend in Wales held on suspicion of assault has been bailed until Friday 15 April.

A 46-year-old man from Birkenhead, Merseyside, held on suspicion of assault has been bailed until Wednesday 2 March.

A further nine were arrested at the M20 services on suspicion of violent disorder.

They were a 51-year-old man from Fulham in south-west London, a 48-year-old man from Farnborough in Hampshire, a 51-year-old man from Wallington in Surrey, a 51-year-old man from Hounslow in west London, a 25-year-old man from Leeds in West Yorkshire, and a 53-year-old man from Crowborough in East Sussex, a 23-year-old man from Peckham, London, a 28-year-old man from Wigan in Lancashire, and a 36-year-old man from Clifton in Lancashire.

They have all been released on bail while inquiries continue.

More than 20 weapons were seized in total at Dover and the M20 services, including a lock-knife, knuckle duster, poles adapted to cause harm, pieces of wood, glass, hammers and bricks.

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