A Leicester Police chief has insisted his force did not support a protest in the city which sparked sectarian violence as experts express fear international political turbulence could cause ‘ripple effects’ in the UK.
Last weekend gangs of young male Hindus and Muslims in East Leicester clashed, with police making 47 arrests relating to the disorder for offences including making threats to kill, possession of a firearm and affray.
The widespread disorder involving mainly young men from sections of the Hindu and Muslim communities is seen as a ‘country-based dispute’ after India beat Pakistan in an Asia Cup cricket match in Dubai on August 28.
Following the game, large crowds of young men draped in Indian flags began celebrating on Melton Road in Leicester. Footage emerged showing Indian supporters apparently chanting ‘Pakistan Murdabad’ – a slogan dating back to the partition era meaning ‘death to Pakistan’.
Tensions begun to escalate in the weeks that followed before it came to a head on Saturday with an unplanned protest march taking place believed to have involved about 300 Hindu men.
Community leaders say clashes were fuelled by misinformation online and outsiders travelling to the city from areas including Birmingham to fan the flames.
The police force insist they did not support the unplanned protest on Saturday and have made it clear they had no intelligence on the volume of people who were to gather.
Arrests were made following an outbreak of violence and disorder in Leicester on Saturday
A group of masked men march through Leicester on Sunday with one seen armed with a 2×4 foot piece of wood amid violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims
Footage emerged showing the brewing tensions between the two groups with mass marches showing hundreds of people congregating in eastern parts of Leicester on Saturday and Sunday
Temporary Chief Constable Rob Nixon has written an open letter to the East Leicester community
An open letter to communities in East Leicester written by Temporary Chief Constable Rob Nixon said: ‘On Saturday 17 September, I am making clear that police did not support an unplanned protest in East Leicester.
‘There was no direct intelligence relating to the volume of people who were going to mobilise early on Saturday. My officers were dispatched in order to try to engage and seek co-operation.
‘They were confronted by in excess of 300 people and there were eight officers at the time. They did the best they could in the circumstances by staying with them until more officers could arrive. That is what videos on social media show.
‘Two arrests were made later.
‘Separately, earlier in the day, officers had dealt with a small group who had posted on social media that they planned to come to Leicester from Birmingham.
‘Protests need advance notification and none was given.’
Speaking on a Twitter video on Saturday, Leicestershire Police temporary chief constable Rob Nixon said: ‘We have had numerous reports of an outbreak of disorder in parts of the East Leicester area of the city.
‘We have got officers there, we are taking control of the situation, there are additional officers en route and dispersal powers, stop search powers, have been authorised.
‘Please do not get involved. We are calling for calm.’
Temporary Chief Constable Rob Nixon for Leicestershire Police has said that police previously deployed to the capital have been sent back to the east Midlands city to help any potential further unrest (police pictured at the unplanned march on Green Lane Road on Sunday)
Several people were arrested during a policing operation in east Leicester ‘to deter further disorder’ on Sunday
Leicestershire Police on Saturday and Sunday nights, policing groups of people gathering in city neighbourhoods
Police chief Rob Nixon said: ‘There was no direct intelligence relating to the volume of people who were going to mobilise early on Saturday’
Experts from local Leicester universities have said the events could be a warning for other UK towns and cities that international political turbulance could also filter into their neighbourhoods.
‘There is no doubt in my mind that the religious tensions in India and the actions of a hard-line, violent, nationalist government there has had a direct influence on what we have seen [in Leicester],’ Professor Neil Chakrobarti, director of the Centre for Hate Studies at Leicester University, told the Independent.
‘Without the BJP in power in India – without their demonisation of minority groups – it is difficult to imagine the same tensions here.
‘And what that shows – what we need to recognise, here in Leicester but everywhere where different communities co-exist – is that what goes on thousands of miles away, across continents and borders, will cause ripple effects here at home. The global is local. In an inter-connected world, global events will expose and exacerbate local tensions.’
His comments were echoed by Kim Sadique, associate professor in community and criminal justice at the city’s De Montfort University, who warned people need to be aware of conflict in other other parts of the world seeping into the UK.
Speaking on a Twitter video on Saturday, the Leicestershire Police temporary chief constable called for calm
After the August 28 cricket match, widespread violence broke in Leicester with an emergency worker assaulted, apparently fuelled by disinformation on social media.
The violence was boosted, according to police, by rival gangs of youths from other towns and cities including Birmingham and Luton converging on Leicester, some of them inspired by an online campaign entitled ‘We’re going to land in Lesta [sic]’.
Even though the violence following the cricket match brought the tensions into the consciousness of the wider public, those working to calm the situation say there are several complex factors at play which have given rise to the current unrest, which has involved a small minority of each community rather than the silent majority.
Clashes like those seen in Leicester threaten to spread ‘all over the country’ religious leaders have warned.
Open letter from police to East Leicester communities
To our communities in East Leicester,
During nearly 30 years of policing I have known Leicester to be a harmonious place. In recent weeks some people have tried to break that harmony.
The vast majority of people in our communities want our city to be peaceful, tolerant and safe. These voices and their will is strong in our proudly diverse city.
A small number have tried to cause division, have committed crimes, and seek disorder. Local people have been afraid. My officers and staff have taken robust action in recent weeks to deal with those people. That work continues.
In this letter I want to be absolutely clear on three points. Because I believe what matters to the majority in our city is an end to tensions and that we find solutions locally together.
Firstly, two points of clarification. On Saturday 17 September, I am making clear that police did not support an unplanned protest in East Leicester. There was no direct intelligence relating to the volume of people who were going to mobilise early on Saturday. My officers were dispatched in order to try to engage and seek co-operation. They were confronted by in excess of 300 people and there were eight officers at the time. They did the best they could in the circumstances by staying with them until more officers could arrive. That is what videos on social media show. Two arrests were made later. Separately, earlier in the day, officers had dealt with a small group who had posted on social media that they planned to come to Leicester from Birmingham. Protests need advance notification and none was given.
There is also video on social media of a flag being pulled down outside a religious building on Melton Road, Leicester, on Saturday. We are investigating this. My officers were dealing with a large crowd directly in front of them at the time and were not able to reach the person on the building.
Any incident involving a place of worship is very important. We continue to appeal for information related to this incident and all other matters during the disorder.
Secondly, I want to explain how investigations will proceed. We have made 47 arrests at this time connected to the disorder. More will be made. Some cases will have sufficient evidence to charge a person quickly because of the type of crime and how the arrest took place. For example, someone is found carrying a weapon. Different crimes need more investigation and take time. When a person is charged with an offence, their name will be made public. This is normal in England and Wales and is important to the transparency of the court system. The timings of any release of names will therefore vary.
We police without fear or favour in Leicestershire. All are equal before the law. Our investigations into the disorder continue at scale and with rigour. To protect our communities we will continue to gather the facts for the courts to review.
Thirdly, I renew our commitment to work with our local communities, Leicester City Council and local organisations to restore harmony in East Leicester.
Thank you for your support.
Temporary Chief Constable Rob Nixon
The Home Secretary has weighed in on the unrest in Leicester, saying ‘disorder and thuggery’ will face ‘the full force of the law’ after meeting community leaders and police.
Suella Braverman insisted she was focused on how to ‘restore safety and harmony’ to the city after the scenes on Saturday and Sunday which led to 47 arrests.
Residents in Leicester, celebrated for its diversity, have been shocked by images of groups of men, mainly masked or hooded and including members of the Hindu and Muslim communities, in tense confrontations and stand-offs on the city’s streets.
In a tweet on Thursday, the Home Secretary said she had met Leicestershire Police officers, temporary Chief Constable Rob Nixon and community leaders to discuss action over the unrest.
‘We’ll work together on this, and I will do everything I can to support communities and our police. Those who bring disorder and thuggery to our streets will face the full force of the law and I thank all those brave police officers for keeping us safe,’ she said.
Ms Braverman said she had also spoken to the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Dave Thompson, and would ‘continue to monitor the situation and thank the police for their expert handling’.
It comes after Leicestershire Police warned of misinformation being spread online and the challenges it posed for the area’s communities.
A ‘fake’ message purporting to be from the Hindu and Jain community of Leicester was said to have been circulated, prompting temples and leaders to issue a statement discrediting it.
Independent MP for Leicester East Claudia Webbe previously said some social media accounts appeared to be ‘preying on this unease’ by ‘spreading misinformation’.
She wrote to Leicestershire Police’s temporary Chief Constable urging vigilance, and passing on reports ‘of incitement to hate targeting at those of Muslim of Hindu faith’.
The BBC reported that an independent review would take place into the disorder following a meeting of community leaders, councillors and local police on Wednesday evening.
The city has seen no repeat of the scenes from the weekend.
Across the community there have been repeated calls for restraint, most recently from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which said ‘hatred of any kind has no place in our society’.
The collective leadership of many of the main Hindu and Jain temples have also appealed ‘for calm in the city’.
Some of those detained after trouble in the city’s east were from Birmingham, according to the force, which also said 25 of its officers and a police dog were injured.
Leicester’s troubles have also taken on an international dimension. The High Commission of India and, on Tuesday, the Pakistan High Commission have both issued statements, condemning violence against the Hindu and Muslim communities, respectively.
On Monday, the MCB hit out at what it called ‘the targeting of Muslim communities in Leicester by far-right Hindutva groups’, ‘mob-attacks on Muslims’ and vandalism of homes and businesses ‘in recent months’.
However, the city’s Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO), while urging calm, also called for careful language and stressed the dangers of attributing the trouble to one group or another.
The FMO strongly cautioned against using terms ‘like Hindutva’, which was ‘strictly related to this fascist extreme minority’ because ‘such terms can demonise an entire community unfairly’.
Ms Webbe said constituents had told her trouble had been simmering for months.
Urging police to stay vigilant, she detailed ‘serious concerns’ of residents, afraid to leave their homes at night after reports of violence in the Belgrave area of the city following India’s victory over Pakistan in the Asia Cup cricket match on August 28.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour MP for Leicester South, called the recent troubles a ‘dark episode’ in a city where he and residents ‘rightly pride ourselves on celebrating our diversity’.
He said: ‘It has always been the case – re-confirmed from my conversations across communities – that the vast majority of Leicester’s Hindu and Muslim communities are law abiding and continue to enjoy long-standing good relations.
‘These strengths will help us through this dark episode.’