Police on hand for protest and counter protest in Cannock over asylum seekers

Police were on hand for a demonstration in a Staffordshire town centre by people calling on the Government to take a harder line on immigration, as well as counter-protesters with welcoming messages for refugees.

The demonstration in Cannock town centre
The demonstration in Cannock town centre

Several dozen people marched from the Beecroft Road car park near the centre of Cannock to the town's main shopping area on Saturday morning with signs including one that said: "Our Government needs to deport not support."

A number of men were carrying an England flag on which the words "Illigal [sic] invaders" had been drawn.

There were around 150 people involved in the demonstration once it arrived in the town centre, and it was met with a counter-protest of about 40 people with signs reading "refugees welcome here" and "no-one is illegal".

Police officers formed a barrier between the two protests and chants were exchanged.

Protesters who walked behind the "deport not support" sign insisted the message was not a racist one, and complained about hotels in Staffordshire being used as accommodation for asylum seekers.

In Cannock town centre

One man said there were homeless people in Cannock who needed support and suggested that money spent on housing asylum seekers, estimated by the Home Office to be around £6.8 million per day, could help them instead.

He said: "There's homeless people in Cannock sleeping on the streets and someone in his family, in this country, has paid taxes to ensure he's supported from cradle to grave. But here he is, on the street."

And another protester said: "Nobody is standing for us which is why people are here, they've had enough."

Earlier in the week Staffordshire Police appealed for calm amid rising tensions, and confirmed that one man had been arrested and charged with a 'vehicle interference' offence.

The force could not substantiate other claims made about asylum seekers.

Tracey Sweeney, who lives nearby and organised the march with Kaz Southall, said: "We're disgusted with the Government deciding to put immigrants up in our town.

"It's about time and it's about time the Government heard our voices. We're not racist one little bit, we just want the Government to see that we've had enough of this."

In Cannock town centre

She added she was hopeful others, in towns across the country, would hold similar demonstrations and that they all would take coaches to Downing Street to share their message to the Government.

Some protesters complained that money was being spent on accommodation for asylum seekers whilst people were struggling with the cost of living crisis.

Children could be seen, and heard, joining in with chants against asylum seekers as the protesters set up at the bandstand near Greggs – across from the counter-protesters at the opposite bandstand.

One man added: "Why do the councils, or MPs, never consult us at all about this? They forget that we put them there and we pay their exuberant wages and they work for us, like the police and the Government but the way they continue to act you wouldn't think so."

The group split into two half way through a talk through a PA system the organisers had set up – with calls for "calm" as others headed to confront the counter protesters, with a line of police forming to act as a 'barricade' between both sides and ensuring the demonstration remained peaceful.

The counter demonstration

Nick Kelleher, secretary of Wolverhampton's TUC branch, said the country only accepted a "very few" people from overseas compared to other countries – and "we should be doing our best for those fleeing from war zones".

He added he had joined the counter-protesters to show solidarity with them, but felt "disappointed" at the numbers on the opposing side – adding the Government's use of hotels to house migrants was "bringing money into the local economy".

Another woman who did not want to be named said: "I'm here today to oppose people who are coming out on the streets today, I'm here in solidarity with all asylum seekers and anyone who has experienced racism and racist abuse."

Shaz Akhtar, secretary of Walsall's TUC, said "We're all here today to say refugees are welcome here. No one leaves their homeland without a choice, they leave because they've got no choice – because our country is making decisions affecting people whether that's in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and it's really upsetting to be faced with a crowd like this.

"I'm hopeful people are understanding that when asylum seekers are coming into our country they are not doing it by choice, they've got no other option."

The counter-protesters stood behind a line of police, playing music promoting understanding, whilst the other group shouted, chanted and confronted the police officers – with some waving flags with "Patriotic Alliance" scrawled across them.

Another counter-protester, from Birmingham, initially confronted the other group when they first arrived. "I don't like to see people using refugees as scapegoats," he said.

Soon after the protest began to dissipate with members on both sides deciding to call it a day at around 12.30pm.

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