I didn't see the actual attack, but it did not surprize me. As reported here yesterday, Unite Against Fascism had announced that an anti-BNP cavalcade would be starting out from Lewisham Clock Tower at 11 am. I was down there at 11 and there was no sign of the lorry, but there was a very obvious group of about 10 -15 fascists standing by Lewisham Food Market and closely watching what was going on at the Clock Tower. They had scouts posted on corners nearby presumably looking out for signs of the cavalcade.
I got a good look at one of them as she came away from the group and stood at the bottom of Lee High Road - a woman with dyed black hair, pale skin and an eyebrow piercing, wearing a black Paul's Boutique coat with a yellow cancer charity daffodil, probably about 5 foot six. I think the rest were all blokes, mostly in their 20s or younger with various rain gear including at least one big umbrella [can I just be clear that I don't have a problem with eyebrow piercing or Paul's Boutique - the description is included because it might help the victims identify their attackers, not to make any snobby point about EDL dress codes].
I tweeted 'In Lewisham waiting for arrival of anti-BNP bus, ten or so moody looking possible BNP by clock tower'. After about half an hour it looked like the cavalcade wasn't coming. I heard that the lorry had technical faults and so wouldn't be coming to Lewisham, so I headed off.
As I was leaving I saw a couple of local Socialist Workers Party members on their way to set up their regular Saturday stall and warned them about the dodgy crew nearby. Fair play to them, they refused to be intimidated and went ahead as normal. Shortly afterwards they were attacked.
On Twitter the attack is being blamed on the 'English Defence League', but it's difficult to say whether they were BNP or EDL or both. The EDL did post a crowing message on twitter (laughably comparing their opponents to 'fascists').
No doubt they will be boasting of their audacity in operating in a multi-racial area like Lewisham. Hardly an act of great bravery though for the cream of the master race to attack two people selling papers, at least one of them a pensioner.
Presumably Lewisham police were sheltering from the rain in their huge station opposite the scene of the attack. The perpetrators were present for at least 45 minutes before the attack, can't believe that a group of young black men looking menacing in the same place would have escaped their notice.
Update 1 (Sunday 29 April): two further witnesses have left acccounts in the comments -
- 'I was there and helped one of the attacked men up. He must of been in his late 60's and was punched to the ground.The other guy was headbutted and looked like he had a broken cheekbone. I offered to take them to the hospital but they opted for an ambulance. No police anywhere even though it was opposite one of the biggest police stations in Europe. They wasn't just young, there was older guys in there 40's with them too'.
- 'I was there too. A group had gathered quite a while before and even though I had no idea of the planned meeting it was obvious they were up to something. Maybe 7 or 8 younger men plus an older man and the woman with Paul's Boutique coat. After attack they left laughing. They hardly ran. Very surprised police did not come at all during this time'.
Update 2 (Monday 30 April) - Lewisham Anti Racist Action Group issued a press release last night about what happened:
'Two local anti-racist pensioners were viciously attacked and hospitalised this Saturday by racist thugs who said they were part of a group known as ‘March For England’ which is very closely linked to English Defence League (EDL) and the BNP. Andy Smith, a retired teacher and active in Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum and the NUT was viciously attacked as well as another local pensioner.
The attack appears to be in response to a planned Unite Against Fascism event across south London whose aim was to discourage people from voting for or supporting far-right racist parties in the forthcoming London assembly elections. It follows the humiliation they received in last week’s ‘March For England’ Brighton demonstration where 1000 anti-racists succeeded in reducing the far-right march to a miserable and defeated mob.
The attack happened during a busy Saturday on Lewisham High Street whilst manning a regular campaign stall, one that has been active for over thirty years in Lewisham and an integral part of the local community. Shortly after 12pm the stall was thrown to the floor by an individual loitering in the area and according to witnesses, already there waiting for the local activists to arrive.
A group, taking photographs and staring menacingly at the activists started to gather near the clock tower. Before too long, they passed the stall en masse at which point an altercation began, with shouts and heckling from the racist group. In response to Islamophobic statements one pensioner approached them and received a vicious head-butt as an answer, throwing him to the ground . Another pensioner intervened and was quickly surrounded, man-handled and flung to the floor receiving a knock to the head. Both had to receive medical treatment for their injuries.
Earlier in the morning a photographer was also attacked by the same group of racists and had reported the attack to Lewisham police station...'
LARAG is arranging a coach from Lewisham to Luton next Saturday May 5th to join the counter-demonstration to the planned EDL march there. Call 07508 633 045 to book a ticket.