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Leicester tensions have been simmering for ‘months’ says city MP

Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East. (David Woolfall/UK Parliament)
Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East. (David Woolfall/UK Parliament)

Tensions in Leicester have been simmering for “months” according to an MP, as faith leaders urged “restraint” after the weekend’s trouble.

The city has seen no repeat of the scenes from Saturday and Sunday which led to 47 arrests, with Leicestershire Police saying on Tuesday there were “no reports of disorder” overnight.

Some of those detained after trouble in the city’s east were from Birmingham, according to the force, which also said 25 of its officers and a police dog were injured.

Amos Noronha, 20, of Illingworth Road, Leicester, was jailed for 10 months after admitting possession of an offensive weapon in connection with the trouble.

Residents in Leicester, famed for its diversity, have been shocked by images of groups of men, mainly masked or hooded and involving members of the Hindu and Muslim communities, in tense confrontations and stand-offs on the city’s streets.

Independent MP for Leicester East Claudia Webbe previously said some social media accounts appeared to be “preying on this unease” by “spreading misinformation”.

She wrote to Leicestershire Police’s temporary chief constable at the start of the month, and then again, before the weekend’s recent trouble, urging vigilance, and passing on reports “of incitement to hate targeting at those of Muslim of Hindu faith”.

Across the community there have been repeated calls for restraint following the weekend, most recently from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which said “hatred of any kind has no place in our society”.

The collective leadership of many of the main Hindu and Jain temples have also appealed to all “for calm in the city”.

Leicester’s troubles have also taken on an international dimension. The High Commission of India and, on Tuesday, the Pakistan High Commission have both issued statements, condemning violence against the Hindu and Muslim communities, respectively.

On Monday, the MCB also hit out at what it called “the targeting of Muslim communities in Leicester by far-right Hindutva groups”, “mob-attacks on Muslims” and vandalism of homes and businesses “in recent months”.

However, the city’s Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO), while urging calm, also called for care in the language used and the dangers in ascribing the trouble to one group or another.

The FMO strongly cautioned against using terms “like Hindutva”, which was “strictly related to this fascist extreme minority” because “such terms can demonise an entire community unfairly”.

Ms Webbe said constituents had told her trouble had been simmering for months.

She published on Twitter a letter she sent to Leicestershire Police’s temporary chief constable Rob Nixon on September 1, well before last weekend’s violence.

Urging police to stay vigilant, she detailed “serious concerns” of residents, afraid to leave their homes at night, after reports of violence in the Belgrave area of the city, after India’s victory over Pakistan, in the Asia Cup cricket match, on August 28.

Ms Webbe said some constituents had voiced fears to her that violence was driven in part by “underlying Islamophobia in parts of Leicester’s communities, rather than an isolated incident”.

Days later, on September 14, Ms Webbe, again writing to the chief constable, about “ongoing disturbances” and “incitement to hate” listed incidents on September 5, and on September 9, following which two arrests were made.

She said constituents had told her “tensions in the community may be more long-standing and not narrowly related to the India v Pakistan” match, pre-dating that flashpoint by “several months”.

Writing before the weekend’s latest incidents, Ms Webbe again warned of “the risk of escalation if community tensions increase”, and claimed people were reportedly using social media platform to stoke trouble.

She said: “There are reports of incitement to hate being targeted at those of Muslim and Hindu faith, which is being shared on social media to cause fear.

“Places like Facebook and via WhatsApp designed to ‘entrap’ members of the local community to attend a protest, sparked by hate.”

She spoke of one such “protest”, adding: “I have no doubt that this fake event was designed to provoke additional clashes and to cause disharmony and distrust.”

Ms Webbe accused those who were “spreading misinformation on social media and elsewhere” of “preying on this unease”.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour MP for Leicester South, called the recent troubles a “dark episode” in a city where he and residents “rightly pride ourselves on celebrating our diversity”.

He said: “Attempts to sow division including by those with extremist views will fail and are totally condemned across Leicester.

“We utterly condemn violent incidents on our streets; marches with provocative slogans inciting hate; attacks on places on worship, symbols or religion,” he added.

“It has always been the case – re-confirmed from my conversations across communities – that the vast majority of Leicester’s Hindu and Muslim communities are law abiding and continue to enjoy longstanding good relations.

“These strengths will help us through this dark episode.”