Violence erupts as anti-fascists clash with far-right groups in Sunderland + SLIDESHOW

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MILLFIELD residents watched in fear as disorder engulfed their community.

About 200 people, from a number of left-wing and right-wing organisations, were involved in the counter-demonstrations, which centred on plans to build a mosque in St Mark’s Road.

Members of the Sunderland Anti-Fascist Coalition, march from Murray Library on Chester Road to the site of the proposed mosque on Saint Marks Road, shortly after groups from the NE Infidels, BNP, Northern Patriotic Front and EDL arrive to demonstate against Sunderland Anti-Fascist Coalition, Police officers keep the two groups apart.

Members of the Sunderland Anti-Fascist Coalition, march from Murray Library on Chester Road to the site of the proposed mosque on Saint Marks Road, shortly after groups from the NE Infidels, BNP, Northern Patriotic Front and EDL arrive to demonstate against Sunderland Anti-Fascist Coalition, Police officers keep the two groups apart.

Northumbria Police had put officers in place to oversee the protest.

But, despite having assurances from both sides that this would be a peaceful, good-natured event, respectful of the community, disorder started after race-hate groups arrived and officers had to use batons to control the situation.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Ashman said: “It is disappointing that a protest that was planned as peaceful has resulted in arrests.

“We had a strong police presence in the area and this continued in order to provide reassurance to the community.

“We will not tolerate any sort of disorder and those seen to be committing such offences will be arrested.”

Sunderland Mayor and Mayoress, Councillors Iain Kay and Barbara McClennan, were with the left-wing protestors in St Mark’s Road earlier, when the march from the university’s Murray Library and demo in St Mark’s Road had been boisterous, but peaceful.

Later, a fierce confrontation saw members of a number of groups, including the British National Party and the English Defence League, clashing with anti-fascists and members of Sunderland’s Muslim community.

Thirteen people were arrested as the disorder escalated and protestors starting hurling missiles, including rocks, fireworks and glass bottles.

Police with batons were called upon to quell the disturbance as frightened residents looked on in the heart of Millfield.

One witness, who did not want to be named, was hit on the arm by a flying glass bottle during the mayhem.

She said: “It was really frightening. They were throwing rocks and fireworks as well.

“The noise from the fireworks was really loud and you could see all the sparks shooting out and there was quite thick smoke.

“The police did a really good job in controlling the situation. They were very calm and prevented it from being a lot worse than it might have been.”

It is not believed anyone was injured during the disorder.

Plans to convert a former council transport depot into a new mosque were put forward in 2011 and approved by Sunderland Council in August.

The application by the Pakistan Islamic Centre attracted almost 700 letters of objection and a petition of more than 1,400 signatures, many from outside Millfield.

Protests over the mosque have already been held, including where police had to separate people in August, but people living in the area said Saturday’s disorder had been the worst by far.

Of the 13 arrested, two men, both aged 32, have been charged with being drunk and disorderly and will appear at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court on October 26.

Eight men were arrested on suspicion of public order offences and three men on suspicion of affray and have all been bailed pending further enquires.

Twitter: @sunderlandecho