ON the second anniversary of violent St George’s Day clashes which saw thugs bring Brighton to a standstill, The Argus can reveal some of the main perpetrators have been spared jail.
The March for England clashes cost an estimated £1 million in policing, and it has taken nearly two years for the participants to have their day in court.
But the Argus can reveal that that of the five men and two women who were convicted of violent disorder after trials at Hove Crown Court last month, all were handed suspended sentences.
More than 1,300 officers policed the far-right march, which culminated in shop fronts bring smashed and glasses and chairs hurled between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators in the city centre.
Policing the protest cost more than £500,000 while retired detective Graham Cox estimated at least as much again would have been spent since in court and police time, and questioned the sentences handed down.
He added: “Ultimately we do live in a free country and people should be allowed to demonstrate providing they don’t break the law.
“I don’t think you can put a price on free speech providing they are acting lawfully.
“So I don’t think banning marches is the correct approach and this is the price we have to pay for it.”
He added: “The [suspended] sentences seems on the lenient side to me.
“I know you cannot always send everyone to prison, but I suspect some of the people who have investigated might be a little bit disappointed with how much the courts have backed them up.”
The violence broke out outside the Dorset pub at the corner of Gardner Street and North Lane after the parade had ended on April 28, 2014.
A team of six officers spent three months studying CCTV to identify those involved in the violence, and detectives have travelled the country to make arrests.
Detective Superintendent Carwyn Hughes said: “This was terrifying for those people in the area and we ensured the resources necessary to find those responsible and bring them to justice.
“We will always prosecute where protests become an excuse for a fight.”
Organisers of the far-right March for England said they would not return to Brighton in 2015 and nothing has been announced for this year.
However, one group is organising an event at the Level to celebrate the lack of a March for England, while far-right group Pie and Mash Squad told The Argus it planned to come to the city but refused to say more to “lefty journalists”.
Police are laying on extra resources in case of trouble.
Brighton and Hove chief superintendent Nev Kemp said: “Should we become aware that any group wants to exercise their right to lawful protest, we will of course be happy to liaise with them and the local community to try and facilitate a peaceful protest.”
IT WAS SHOCKING AND WE FELT UNSAFE
THE trouble started almost as soon as the far-right demonstrators got off the train into Brighton on the morning of April 27 two years ago.
Police had taken few chances, moving the parade from the city centre to the seafront and putting 1,325 officers on duty along with horse and dogs.
But shouts of “scum” and worse filled the air as the far-right group of around 200, many swathed in St George’s cross flags, made its way down Queens Road, taunted by counter-demonstrators, many covering their faces with black scarves.
Punching the air and shouting back, the March for England group was tightly controlled by police as it moved on to the seafront with many of the shops around shuttered for the morning and the usual weekend pleasure-seekers out of sight.
Tension ratcheted up as the group went on to the seafront, with flares thrown by some of the hundreds of counter-demonstrators, police horses helping to keep the two sides separate – and bystanders filming the action on their phones.
Yet the parade on the seafront passed off without serious violence and it was only when the marchers started heading back towards the railway station that police had bigger worries.
Groups started filtering off into the city centre, ending up drinking at The Dorset pub in Gardner Street, where the burst of violence that led to two-week trials two years later kicked off.
Witness Alice Johnson had been having a coffee with a friend and remembered: “Some groups from the march were having a drink outside The Dorset and then a group of guys who had their hoods up came from the other direction towards them.
“There was a bit of a stand off and then they were sort of shouting at each other but no one was really taking the first step. I don’t remember who threw something first but they started throwing glasses at each other and then the guys outside the pub started throwing the outdoor furniture.
“Everyone got out of the way and we were behind a dumpster – we could not really get past.
“It was a bit shocking and interesting at first – and then we felt unsafe. People threw chairs and things that caused lots of damage and a few of the shopfronts were smashed. “It was quite shocking for a while.”
As well as the damage to surrounding shops, many traders complained of thousands of pound in lost revenue due to the disruption to the city.
Two police officers were assaulted as people blocked the road to the station along Queens Road and Surrey Street.
They were knocked to the floor and had items thrown at them.
In the years since, there has been a huge police effort to track down those involved in the fighting, with weeks spent sifting through CCTV and officers travelling up and down the country making arrests.
In August of that year a case heard in magistrates court against Richard Kemp, then 39, from Halifax in Yorkshire, was thrown out of court after officers gave different accounts of what he had been doing with a chair. Magistrates said there was no case to answer due to inconsistencies in the evidence.
In between there have been calls from some quarters to have the march banned, although in the end it was the organisers themselves who have so far not held the parade here again.
Many believe they picked Brighton in the first place partly due to the town’s “lefty” reputation and some suggest the shift from the Green council last year may have dampened that attraction.
Witness Ms Johnson said of the latest convictions: “I hope that maybe they have reconsidered their behaviour.”
14 IN COURT IN CONNECTION WITH DISORDER
Fourteen people appeared at Hove Crown Court in two trials charged with violent disorder.
On Wednesday, February 17, six of them were found guilty and on Tuesday, March 21, one more person was found guilty. Seven were found not guilty.
Craig Wells, 34, of Connell Drive, Brighton; Alan Titterton, 50, of Wordsworth Avenue, Sheffield; Lorna Marcham, 31, of Norwich Drive, Brighton; Andrew Gill, 42, of Sixhills Street, Grimsby; Graham Clark, 52, of Belgrave Road, Margate, Kent; and Scott Banks, 21, of Acacia Road, Doncaster, were all given a two-year suspended sentence.
Tracey Parsons, 50, of David Stoddart Gardens, Swindon, was given a one-year suspended sentence.
Gavin Pidwell, 30, of Glynde, Lewes; Michael Woodhouse, 49, of Baden Road, Brighton; Jack Woodhouse, 19, of Baden Road, Brighton; Gareth Cooper, 34, of Burton Avenue, Doncaster; Richard Walker, 47, of Hillside Lane, Henfield; Ian Crossland, 42, of Hollinsend Road, Sheffield; and Stephen Caudwell, 54, of Angleton Close, Sheffield, were all found not guilty.