Greater Manchester Police have issued a statement in response to the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson’s visit to Oldham as part of his European Parliament campaign.
Robinson – real name Stephen-Yaxley Lennon – visited Oldham on Saturday 18 May.
Videos were circulating of far-right protesters throwing bricks and bottles at counter protesters who threw eggs at Robinson’s supporters.
Rumours of stabbings and shootings were circulating on social media, which led to GMP issuing the following statement on their Facebook page:
“Police Superintendent Danny Inglis of GMP’s Oldham District, said: “While we work through the evidence that’s available to us from the disturbance last night, it’s important that we keep you informed, and some of that is clearing up any rumours.
“There have been a lot of messages and questions both in the community and on social media about why we allowed the event itself to take place.
“It’s really important to understand that people have the opportunity to exercise their right to protest and to counter-protest. This is in line with everyone’s right to free speech and we do not have any powers to stop this from happening. It is a fundamental human right.
“When we say free speech however, we certainly do not mean speech or actions that are full of hate. Hate will never, ever be tolerated, not only in Oldham, but in the whole of Greater Manchester and we will seek out those who think that this is acceptable and hold them to account.
“As part of our policing operation last night, officers engaged with a group intent on going to Limeside. In line with our duty to minimise disruption to the local area as much as possible, officers walked with the group and sought to reduce any problems on the route they took.
“There were also reports of stabbings and gunshots but I’m glad to say that these were false reports. Understandably, the sound of fireworks could have been misinterpreted and I assure you that those who believe it to be acceptable to throw fireworks can also expect to be investigated by the dedicated team of detectives who will be working on the case.
“Intelligence suggests that some of those travelled a significant distance to Oldham yesterday and came with their own agendas, not to support any protest. We will trace those responsible for the disturbance and use all available powers to do so.
“I must be clear that these people are not a representation of the people of Oldham. Today, local residents have selflessly cleaned their streets and the surrounding areas, which I not only want to thank them for but think it sends a clear message to those who had no regard for the harm or mess they were causing, that you are not welcome.
“With our partners, we will stand right there next to you and take a stand against people who think causing this type of chaos is acceptable and I’d like to thank you for your support as we continue responding to this.”
Anyone with footage or images is encouraged to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org