HUNDREDS of people turned out to celebrate Preston’s diversity on Saturday as a heavily guarded gang of racists from the English Defence League (EDL) staged a demonstration in the north-western English town.
An estimated 50 to 100 EDL supporters descended on Preston, while between 500 and 600 local people supported a One Community counter-event organised by Preston and South Ribble Trades Union Council and Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
Demonstrator Neil Sheehan said: “It was a great event — music, a choir, well organised and a great success. The EDL are a spent force.”
Four hundred police were mobilised, including mounted officers, to contain the EDL — once again at taxpayers’ expense.
Preston’s Muslim community played a significant role in the counter-protest.
While the racists chanted anti-Muslim slogans, the celebration of “One Preston” brought together trade unionists, campaign groups and people of different faiths and none, who enjoyed food, music, speeches and friendship.
Alec McFadden of the north-west group of trade union councils said: “This is another example of how trade union councils in the community can unite and mobilise people against fascists and racists.”
Preston’s al-Huda mosque provided 1,000 cakes and more food came from the nearby Noor mosque.
UAF joint secretary Weyman Bennett said: “It was an amazing event. A perfect collection of the local community — Muslims, Christians, trades unions, the council — took over the town square.
“The EDL were a motley crew of 30 or 40 racists, but we had salsa bands, children from the local mosque handing out food, drinks and desserts, speakers from the council and the North West Euro-MP Julie Ward.
“It was a celebration of Preston and the north-west.”
Police erected steel barriers to separate the “One Preston” community event from the fascist marchers.
Two days before the demonstration, an imam died after being found with serious head injuries in nearby Rochdale.
A 31-year-old man was arrested on Friday on suspicion of murder, but he was later released after police eliminated him from their enquiries.