TWO men were arrested after the latest protests over a controversial plan for a mosque at Millfield.
About 20 members of the Northern Patriotic Front gathered on one side of St Mark’s Road on Saturday, while residents and anti-fascist groups lined up opposite, with dozens of police officers separating the groups.
Extra officers were drafted in after trouble flared at previous demonstrations. Concerned residents watched on as members from each side shouted insults and argued with each other across the road.
About 60 protestors took part, with two people arrested – one man for a breach of the peace and one man for racial chanting.
Reverend Chris Howson, from Sunderland Minster, was among members of the clergy who said peace prayers at the nearby St Mark’s Church.
He said: “After the trouble that happened last time we wanted to do something so that Sunderland remains the multicultural, friendly city it should be. We are glad that members of another faith will be given a space to pray.”
The Northern Patriotic Front waved placards reading “no more mosque” while the opposing side’s read “keep Sunderland Nazi-free.”
The new mosque has caused controversy since plans were first introduced and police had to guard a council meeting in the summer when the project was finally given the green light.
One St Mark’s Road resident, who did not want to be named, said: “The residents are fairly relaxed, but it should never have got to this stage. We lodged a petition of 1,600 signatures against this plan.
“We’re not saying it’s wrong to build a mosque, we’re saying it’s the wrong place because of the noise and parking problems it will cause for residents.
“We didn’t want this to become a political debate, we wanted to lodge our protest peacefully and calmly and now all this has materialised. Is it going to take for someone to be hurt before someone realises it’s the wrong place to build a mosque?”
Sunderland Area Commander, Chief Superintendent Kay Blyth, said: “We know the protests are causing concern to the local community and would like to thank residents for their cooperation and understanding.
“Our priority is to ensure public safety and extra officers were in the area to ensure the safety of everyone and that disruption was kept to a minimum.
“We will continue to carry out regular patrols in Millfield and would urge the community to continue to engage and work with police.”
She added: “Many people have been asking why we can’t ban the protests. Police forces do not have the power to ban a protest or the right to peaceful assembly. This is a fundamental democratic right and is laid down in the European Convention of Human Rights.
“On certain occasions we can insist on certain conditions being applied to ensure we preserve public safety, prevent crime, serious disorder and serious damage and protect the rights of others.”
Northumbria Police has thanked residents in Millfield for their cooperation during a planned protest in the area.