VIOLENCE erupted at private members’ club when it was stormed by a group of English Defence League (EDL) supporters targeting a rival political meeting.
Peter Duffy, 44, from Seaham, was among those jailed at Newcastle Crown Court in connection with the incident.
Officials had already cancelled the weekly gathering of the Socialist Workers Party in case there was trouble from EDL members who had gathered at a pub nearby.
But the court heard about 20 of the EDL group, some wearing the party’s “hoodies”, pushed their way in to the Irish Centre in Newcastle and caused havoc.
Prosecutor Jonathan Devlin told the court staff inside were punched and kicked while a fire extinguisher was set off.
Mr Devlin said staff at the centre had cancelled the Socialist Workers Party meeting, fearing there would be trouble on September 22 last year.
He added: “Staff were deployed on the door in order to deny entry to any persons.
“One of the persons aligned with the EDL faction, Peter Duffy, was admitted to be shown the meeting had in fact been cancelled.
“However, once inside the club one of the staff pushed him in the back.
“He responded by turning and striking out at the man who pushed him.
“He was bundled out but was then joined by numerous other males.
“Ten of them in total have been identified but there were others who have not been.
“They forced themselves into the club foyer, a melee ensued and door staff were attacked.”
Robert Adams, defending, told the court the EDL had targeted the meeting after it was advertised on the internet under the heading “smash the EDL”.
Mr Adams said: “They intended to find out precisely what was going to be said.”
He said it was accepted the EDL group should not have gone into the centre. But he said a person’s membership, support or interest in the EDL does not make them racist or a thug.
Mr Adams added: “Support appears to have been gained by this organisation as a result of unlawful actions of various extremist organisations who thought it suitable to demonstrate at parades of homecoming soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. Similar organisations thought it suitable to burn poppies and various other acts.
“In some cases, certain people have taken this more to heart and organisations such as this have derived support from people who are not racist.”
Duffy, of Elgin Avenue, Seaham; Nicholas Mills, 25, of Drumaldrace, Blackfell, Washington; Colin Bell, 36, of St. Oswalds Road, Hebburn; Colin Burton, 28, of Woodhave Court, South Shields; Anthony Burn, 48, of Lecondale Court, Leam Lane; Michael Garrock, 23, of Gibson Court, Wallsend; Barry Keddy, 34, of Denholm, Wallsend; Alan Spence, 46, of Gerald Street, Benwell; Steve Spence, 27, of Wickham View, Denton Burn, and Paul Starr, 45, of Telford Street, East Howden, all admitted public order offences.
Judge Roger Thorn sentenced Duffy to 10 months behind bars, Keddy to eight months, Garrock to eight months, Spence Jnr to eight months, Spence Snr to seven months and Burton to seven months.
Burn and Bell were sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with four-week curfews.
Starr was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with a similar curfew.
Mills’ case was adjourned until later this month.
Judge Thorn said he was not sentencing the men for their membership, or presumed membership of any political party.
But he added: “This was a group attack on the democratic rights of others to have free association and exercise their freedom of speech.
“This behaviour cannot be tolerated, no matter how much you might dislike the views of the socialist party.Violence and threats of violence will not be tolerated by the EDL, SWP or indeed any other factions or groups of any kind.”