Britain’s most senior police officer yesterday warned that Right-wing extremists could ‘hijack’ vigilante patrols protecting against looters.
Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tim Godwin singled out the English Defence League and the British National Party as two organisations who might exploit the situation.
His warning comes amid intelligence that the EDL has successfully infiltrated vigilante groups in Enfield, North London–scene of some of the worst mindless violence and criminality on Sunday night–and Eltham in South East London.
Police warn the potential for this to ‘fuel the flames’ of an already fraught situation by adding a ‘violent racial element’ is ‘enormous and worrying.’
Residents claimed some English Defence League supporters were involved in organising vigilante patrols of young white men under the name Enfield Defence League on Tuesday night.
They split into three 30-strong groups in contact by mobile telephone and BlackBerry to patrol the streets.
Underlining police concerns, the EDL said yesterday: ‘Supporters have taken to the streets to help defend their communities and prepare for the clean-up operations that must follow the last few days of rioting and looting.
‘We already have members organising themselves in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Norwich and Birmingham, and are also looking to organise efforts in Bristol, Leeds, Wolverhampton, Salford, Nottingham, Leicester and Hull.’
Speaking as he toured Enfield yesterday, Mr Godwin said: ‘I am worried that there are groups out there like the EDL and BNP who are trying to hijack this and cause more tensions in the community. They are politically motivated groups who have another agenda.’
He added: ‘I have not got a problem with community groups protecting their property or places of worship, which wasn’t needed in the end.’
But he warned: ‘The police will arrest anyone committing a criminal act, whether they are looting or vigilantes breaking the law.’
The Met’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Kavanagh echoed those warnings yesterday, saying: ‘What I don’t need is these so-called vigilantes, who appeared to have been drinking too much, taking policing resources away from what they should have been doing–which is preventing the looting.’
He spoke out after hundreds of residents in several London areas joined together to drive off would-be looters.
Some groups had armed themselves with lengths of pipe and baseball bats, while some shopkeepers had knives in their stores, claiming that police were ‘nowhere to be seen’ and had ‘failed’ them during the first three days of violence.
Sikh men armed with hockey sticks and metal bars were on guard yesterday in both West London and West Bromwich and stressed they were there with the ‘full knowledge’ of police.
Yesterday, the EDL said: ‘We are hoping to safeguard local businesses through a strong physical presence, and discourage trouble-makers from gathering in our town and city centres.
‘The EDL, and all decent people, be they black, white, Christian, Sikh, Jewish or Muslim, are sickened by this mindless, selfish and ultimately self-defeating behaviour.’
But Searchlight, the anti-fascist organisation, expressed deep concern last night at the EDL involvement, saying: ‘The news that the EDL is promising to come out on the streets to defend our communities from rioters should be met with the derision and contempt it deserves.
‘The EDL is the last thing our communities need.’