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1977: Violent clashes at NF march

VIDEO : Images from the days protest against National Front (mute)

More than 200 protesters have been arrested after demonstrations in Lewisham against a National Front (NF) march.

Approximately 110 people, including 55 police officers, were injured during the disturbances in south east London.

For much of the day the 3,000 police officers on duty in Lewisham had managed to avoid a confrontation between the extreme right-wing NF and opposing groups.

A rally by the All Lewisham Campaign against Racism and Fascism (Alcaraf) passed off peacefully in the morning.

However by 1330GMT an estimated 400 Socialist Workers Party members had gathered in Lewisham in anticipation of the NF march at 1400.

But, apart from a few minor skirmishes, the 3,000 police officers on duty succeeded in keeping the two groups apart.

In frustration at having failed to prevent the NF march the crowd of anti-fascist supporters vented their anger on the police.

Officers were attacked with bottles and bricks and also had ammonia sprayed in their faces.

'Deliberately provocative'

A least one policeman was knocked unconscious and two mounted officers were dragged from their horses.

The severity of the onslaught led to officers using riot shields - the first time such equipment has been used in the UK outside Northern Ireland.

Questions are now being raised as to why Metropolitan Police Commissioner David McNee refused to use the Public Order Act to ban the march in spite of the NF admitting the march was "deliberately provocative".

Spokesman Richard Edmonds said by demonstrating in Lewisham - an area with a high proportion of West Indian immigrants - they were "standing up for white people" and highlighting the disproportionate amount of street crime committed in the area by black youths.

In Context
The march at Lewisham was one of a series planned by the National Front.

But after serious violence at a rally in Birmingham in the West Midlands some councils took steps to stop NF events on public order grounds.

During the 1970s the National Front made political advances by capitalising on anti-immigrant sentiment partly caused by high unemployment.

In 1977 the NF candidate in the West Bromwich by-election won 16.2% of the vote.

But by the early 1980s the National Front had fragmented into several parties, the biggest of which was the British National Party.

The National Front is now a marginal force with fewer than 200 members.

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