Far-Right target Mosque plan

A PLAN to convert a pub into a mosque for a Bangladeshi community has drawn the attentions of a far-right group.

An anonymous Stevenage member of the English Defence League (EDL), an organisation which claims to target Islamic extremism but whose marches are characterised by racism, violence, death threats and arrests, said the group is planning a protest march of up to 1500 people in the town on July 17.

The member said the march was in response to a planning application submitted to Stevenage Borough Council to convert the former White Horse pub on Albert Street into a Muslim community centre and place of worship.

Calling himself ‘Stevenage man’ he said the march was at the moment “unofficial” but the police had been sent a letter and local members would be talking to the EDL leadership to get official backing.

He said: “We oppose the conversion as there is no need to have another Muslim meeting place when they have the mosque in Vardon Road. How do we know what they go there for? The EDL in Stevenage is a growing group which is getting more members everyday. We will be in touch with the EDL organisers and will make it an official peaceful protest.”

But EDL spokesman Steve Simmons said the only “official” demonstration on that date would be in Dudley, and Herts Police said they had not been approached about a march.

Muhammad Alam, Director of North Herts Ethnic Forum, which covers the Stevenage area, said: “I heard that some kind of extremists were going to oppose it. Anyone has a right to do that as long as they are not doing any harm.

Most Read

“A mosque is a place of worship, it doesn’t promote anything else. I think after what happened a few years ago people are very vigilant. We are part of one society and the society comes first. I don’t understand why anyone would be marching it is not a threat to anyone else.”

In a completely separate move, opposition to the plan has also been raised by residents living near the proposed Old Town site.

A petition has been started by Alleynes Road resident Martin Hovell who said the community is concerned about the impact on parking and the possibility of attracting “idiots” who may target the site.

“With the parking restrictions it’s pushing the cars further out. It’s making parking in the area a nightmare already.

“It could attract a hundred people on a Friday. It’s just not conducive to the area. There’s the old people who live down Albert Street. It’s going to be attracting a lot of people, cars and a lot of noise.

“The security measures the police have recommended will have a negative impact on the community. We really don’t want any negative attention that is going to attract idiots. It could spill out onto the community.”

Mr Hovell said a 500-strong petition will be submitted to the council planning office which is currently considering the plan.