Three arrested after demonstrations take place in Sunderland city centre

Three people have been arrested in connect with public order offences after demonstrations took place in Sunderland city centre.

Protesters clashed with officers when they tried to break through police lines as the demo and counter-demo took place.

Demonstrators trying to break through police lines near Keel Square in Sunderland

Demonstrators trying to break through police lines near Keel Square in Sunderland

Hundreds of people involved with Sunderland Unites and Stand Up To Racism North East, including members of trade unions, political parties and politicians, turned out in Keel Square in a show of unity against racism in the city.

Organisers intended it as a counter-demonstration to one organised by the Wearside-based Justice for the Women and Children Group, which was joined by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) - a group associated with far-right politics.

Previous marches organised by Justice for the Women and Children Group passed off peacefully. They were sparked by sexual assaults in Sunderland, the first of which was reported in Roker Avenue on May 23, and the second on June 4.

Two more women also reported they had been attacked in Mowbray Park on Bank Holiday, May 28.

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

Members of the Justice for the Women and Children Group gathered in Mowbray Park at 1.30pm, while DFLA members met outside Sunderland Civic Centre before marching down to the war memorial on Burdon Road where both groups met and laid wreaths.

The two groups, comprised of hundreds of members, then made their way down Fawcett Street and up High Street West for a raliegh on the former Crowtree site, with speakers including UKIP leader Gerard Batten.

As they passed Keel Square where the counter demonstration was taking place, some members of the DFLA ignored their own march stewards and tried to break through the police lines which separated them from the counter-protestors.

Reverend Chris Howson from Sunderland Minster, who was part of the counter demonstration, said: "I'm very disappointed that a number of far-right people marched through our city and tried to cause trouble.

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

"There's no room for these people in our city. I'm glad it's ended safely."

He added: "I think it's very pleasing to see the number of local people turning up to say our city is a welcoming city."

Conservative councillor Michael Dixon was also part of the counter demo.

Speaking before the demonstration, he said: "I think as a city we ought to be standing up to racism that's why I'm here. I hope there are people from all parties here to support us."

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Labour's Zaf Iqbal was part of the organising committee.

He said: "It's about Sunderland standing up and saying we don't want to be a battleground for the far right.

"I just think that is fantastic. I'm glad it's ended safely."

Steve Cooke was one of the counter-protestors, who travelled Stockton to take part.

He said: "I thought it was appalling there were so many people who were willing to be represented by the DFLA.

"But I was heartened that a great number of people in Sunderland came to oppose them."

Demonstrators in Sunderland city centre

Demonstrators in Sunderland city centre

Yunus Baklish: "I thought turn out was very good. We've had faith groups, trade unions, political parties, and lots of young people.

"I have to say it was disgraceful what we saw from the DFLA."

However, Tasha Allan of Justice for the Women and Children Group, one of the demonstration's organisers, said the demonstration not racist but was about defending people in Sunderland from crime.

"It's about speaking out about what is happening in Sunderland," she said. "There are rapists, there are children being sexually assaulted, and this most stop because we live in fear."

She added: "The football lads are not racist, they have proved that just because somebody has said somebody is racist does not mean they are.

"They have come from all over the country to help the woman and children of Sunderland.

"I just think that is fantastic."

Chief Inspector Dave Guthrie, of Northumbria Police, said: “We have a duty to police protests and we respect the rights of people to hold such events.

“Ensuring the safety of the public is our utmost priority, and the demonstration and counter-demonstration mainly passed without incident.

“Three people were arrested in connection with public order offences.

“Extra officers will remain on patrol to offer reassurance to members of the public. Anyone with any concerns should speak to an officer or call 101. In an emergency, call 999.”

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

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Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland

Demonstrators marching through Sunderland