A PROTEST by a handful of far-right demonstrators marking the first anniversary of the murder of a man by Asian youths threatened to bring chaos to a residential area of Glasgow.

Mounted police, helicopters and scores of officers yesterday were deployed on to the streets of the city's Pollokshields, home to Scotland's largest Asian community, despite a maximum of 10 members of the Scottish Defence League (SDL) turning up.

The group had wanted to lay a wreath near the spot where William McKeeney was murdered last January. It is understood Mr McKeeney's girlfriend, who witnessed the attack, and friends and relatives were horrified at attempts by the extremist group to associate themselves with their tragedy.

Loading article content

It had also protested outside the High Court in Edinburgh late last year when Asif Rehman and Adel Ishaq, both 20, were jailed for 16 years for the murder of the Donegal man.

The racial element of the charges against the pair was dropped during the trial.

Yesterday, a counter protest of between 50 and 100 members of United Against Fascism also gathered in Pollokshields and had to be kept apart from the SDL by lines of police.

At one stage, upwards of 20 officers were seen escorting three SDL members away from the flashpoint. Later, a group of counter-protesters broke away from the main group and charged towards the SDL but were kept apart by the police.

Locals also described how yesterday's episode led to Muslim women being escorted through the streets by police officers, while other people were denied entry to their homes as police attempted to keep the groups apart.

The cost of the three-hour incident is expected to run into tens of thousands of pounds, with a number of residents claiming the SDL group numbered no more than six or seven. It ended when the SDL group was escorted out of the area. It is understood the group was permitted to lay a wreath at the spot on Melville Street where Mr McKeeney was kicked and punched unconscious by the pair on January 15 last year.

The group is an offshoot of the English Defence League, a far-right street protest movement connected with football casuals which opposes what it considers to be a spread of Islamism, Sharia law and Islamic extremism in the UK. It has mustered up to 200 people at protests in Scotland but is generally confined to a hardcore of activists.

One source said: "Mr McKeeney's widow has been in Ireland and is unaware of what's happened today. But they've made it clear they don't want racists coming and taking advantage of their tragedy. They don't want the event politicised and had hoped people would have respected that."

Local councillor David Meikle witnessed the events. He said: "I was in the area and saw for myself what happened. It was a very intimidating atmosphere and there was a huge police presence. I'm dismayed my ward has become a focus for this sort of demonstration. The SDL is not welcome."

Matthew Collins is a former member of the National Front who is now one of the UK's leading anti-racist campaigners and leading authority on far-right groups such as the SDL.

Mr Collins, whose Hope Not Hate group recently expanded in Scotland, said: "All murders and hate crimes are to be condemned by the whole community. But here we have the SDL being selective in the condemnation and just heaping more misery on this poor family when it is quite clear they are little different from those who murdered Mr McKeeney."

Strathclyde Police said the episode passed off without any arrests.

The incident has echoes of the attempts by the British National Party to demonstrate in the area following the murder of 15-year-old Kriss Donald by a group of Asian men in Pollokshields in 2004. The BNP was accused by Scotland's then first minister Jack McConnell of seeking to exploit the case for political advantage, and an open letter signed by MSPs, trades unionists, and community leaders, condemned the party's plans to stage a visit to Pollokshields.

The group held a rally, leading to accusations it was fuelling racial tension and exploiting a death for political capital.