Chesterfield Borough Council has defended its decision not to let a far-right political party hold its annual conference in a town venue.
Britain First wanted to have Saturday’s seven-hour meeting in the Assembly Rooms within the Market Hall building.
But in a letter to the nationalist party’s leader, the council’s chief executive Huw Bowen said: “I am writing to advise you that a decision has been taken to cancel this booking because of the risk of public disorder. Your fee of £379 will be credited to your account.”
A council spokesman today added: “Britain First intended to hold its annual conference in the Assembly Rooms within the Market Hall building, which is in the middle of the town’s main shopping area.
“Had the conference gone ahead there could have been the potential for protests and counter protests.
“Given the location of the building, and the narrow cobbled streets around it, this would have meant there was a real risk to the safety of people going about their everyday shopping.
“We are committed to maintaining public safety and cohesion among our communities and so took the decision to refund the booking fee to Britain First and cancel the booking.”
Britain First had urged its supporters to “chip in” in order to raise £5,000 so that “on Monday morning our legal representatives can pounce on the council”.
A Britain First spokesman today said: “We would like to say thank you to the hundreds of patriots who contributed over the weekend to our legal fighting fund.
“We hit our target and surpassed it.
“Our legal representatives fired off the first communications to Chesterfield Borough Council this afternoon.”
Party members will instead check into a back-up venue, the Days Inn Hotel at Woodall Services in Sheffield, for the annual conference.
Britain First campaigns primarily against mass immigration, multiculturalism and what it sees as the Islamisation of the United Kingdom and advocates the preservation of traditional British culture.
The party was formed in 2011 by members of the British National Party.
Its website states: “Britain First is not ‘racist’ in any way and we do not hate any other ethnic groups.
“All we ask is that if people come to this country they abide by the law and respect our heritage and way of life.
“Our opposition to immigration is based on space, not race.
“The only people we ‘hate’ are the white left-wing politicians and journalists who are wrecking our beautiful country.”
Commenting on the ban on the Derbyshire Times’ Facebook page, James Eaden said: “Well done Chesterfield council. Let’s keep the hate merchants out of Chesterfield.”
Richard Turner said: “We do not want them here.”
Laura Overton said: “It’s 2015 – it’s about time we stood up to racism.”
Jamie Hales said: “This should be standard behaviour for councils everywhere.”
Eleanor Unwin said: “Britain First has nothing to do with patriotism. They are systematically trying to destroy everything that is great about Britain and turn us into a fascist country.”
Cal Brough said simply: “Scum.”
However, Gary Bradshaw said: “What happened to freedom of speech? I may not agree with what everyone says but I support their right to say it.”
Gary Whitmore said: “You could almost argue the council has been just as bad as them. They are preventing freedom of speech and political views and almost condemning those who fear British culture is being destroyed in favour of other cultures. I believe in multiculturalism but I think this proves the party’s point - being patriotic is clearly a ‘racist view’ these days.”
Oscar Gomez said: “I don’t agree with Britain First but I do agree with freedom of speech. Far-left groups (socialist workers) are allowed free stalls in Chesterfield whereas the rest of us have to pay.”
Karl Rix said: “I do not agree with them but I support their right to a voice. As soon as you start to silence people whose ideas differ from yours it is the start of a dangerous and slippery slope.”
Si Griffiths said: “This is not democracy in action. I do not support the group in question but I don’t see how this is this right.”
Britain First’s leader Paul Golding said the ban had “thrown our preparations into chaos and left us in disarray”.
He added: “As a public body, Chesterfield Borough Council is supposed to be politically impartial and not discriminate against people based on their political beliefs.
“This amounts to a ghastly attack on the foundations of democracy itself.”
He went on: “Britain First is a fighting movement with bulldog spirit: our movement never surrenders or backs down.
“I am sick and tired of Britain First being pushed around and sabotaged by left-wing police chiefs and local councils.
“It is about time we said ‘enough is enough’.
“We are not going to be trodden all over any longer.
“We are going to make a stand.”
In June, Britain First took Bedfordshire Police to court after the force applied for an injunction to ban the party from holding demonstrations in Luton for a year.
However, the High Court dismissed the application.
Mr Golding said: “This was a great victory for freedom of speech and assembly and for democracy.”