Anglians’ homecoming marred by violence

SOLDIERS from East Anglia were heckled and branded “murderers” by Muslim anti-war protesters amid ugly scenes during a homecoming parade.

A group of protesters gathered in Barking town centre, in east London, as members of the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment marched through the streets.

Thousands of well-wishers lined the route, waving Union flags and cheering as the troops began to march.

But as the soldiers passed, members of a group called Muslims Against The Crusades (MAC) jeered and shouted “murderers, murderers, murders” and “British troops go to hell.”

The chants were drowned out by a large mob on the opposite side of the street who retaliated with jeers of “traitors.”

The parade had to be delayed due to growing tensions between the two sides.

Trouble escalated when the mob broke through barricades, charged across the road and exchanged punches with the MAC protesters.

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Police quickly separated the two groups. One man was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and led away while the police made a ring surrounding the Muslim group.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said two people had been arrested for public order offences.

One witness said: “There were about 25 to 50 Muslim protesters carrying placards with things like ‘Muslims Against Crusades’ and ‘British Soldiers Go To Hell.’

“Then there was a counter-protest of about 100 guys barracking them.’’

Undaunted by the abuse, the soldiers continued to march through the town centre with fixed bayonets during an hour-long procession accompanied by the Minden Band, a Colour Party and two guards of 70 officers and non-commisioned officers.

The MAC group had earlier given out leaflets featuring British soldiers along with an image of a bloody puddle in the shape of the skull calling the troops “death squads” and had earlier put posters up on the town’s war memorial.

The leaflets called on Muslims to “rise up and condemn this sickening parade.”

Extra police officers were drafted in to patrol the procession route and businesses in the area locked up in anticipation of violent clashes.

RELATIVES of soldiers from the region have expressed their disappointment at yesterday’s scenes in Barking.

Members of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, known as ‘The Vikings’, were heckled by anti-war protestors as they marched through the town on a home-coming parade.

Lorranie McClure, the mother of Ipswich soldier Aaron McClure, who was killed in a friendly fire attack in 2007, attended the parade.

She said: “We saw what was going on and thought it was absolutely disgusting.

“What was written on the protestors’ placards was vile. They shouldn’t have been allowed to attend the event in the first place.

“However, their chants were drowned out after a while. Their actions didn’t spoil what was a lovely occasion – it’s always nice to see The Vikings.

“We were able to enjoy the rest of the parade and pay our respects properly.”

Alison Burgess, founder of the Viking Family Support Group, said it was sad a minority of people had shouted abuse at the returning troops, which included her two sons, Pte Nicky Burgess, 23, and Pte Daniel Burgess, 21, both of whom had returned from a six-month tour of Afghanistan last month.

She said: “It is incredibly sad that people who live in our country and enjoy the privileges of working here would stand there and shout insults at troops.

“My sons are mourning the loss of their friends and trying to get back to normal life.

“Nobody likes being shouted at in public but they do recognise the majority of the British public are behind them and respect them and are grateful for what they do.”

The girlfriend of a Royal Anglian soldier killed in Afghanistan said the protest group who heckled troops should have been banned from the parade.

Lance Corporal Scott Hardy, 26, from Chelmsford, was killed in an explosion near Musa Qala on March 16, just weeks before he was due to return home.

His partner Charlene Byrne, 24, said: “They should never have been allowed to hijack this. If the Government knew that this group was planning to do this they should have put a stop to it before it happened.

“It’s terrible that this group has got away with it. Obviously not everyone supports what’s happening in Afghanistan, there are people who are very angry about it, but they shouldn’t take it out on the soldiers.

“The lads who go out to Afghanistan don’t care about the politics, they care for each other and they are doing a very difficult job trying to help the people of their country.”

The Royal Anglian Regiment lost five soldiers during its six-month tour of Afghanistan.

n L/Cpl Scott Hardy, 26, from Chelmsford, and Pte James Grigg, 21, from Stradbroke, were both killed when a bomb exploded in an area north of the Musa Qala district of Helmand province in March.

n Capt Martin Driver, 31, originally from Barnsley in South Yorkshire, was seriously injured by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Musa Qala in March. He was flown back to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at Selly Oak in Birmingham for treatment, but died with his family by his bedside.

n Pte Robert Hayes, 19, from Burwell in Cambridgeshire, died in an explosion while on foot patrol in the Nad-e-Ali area of Helmand province in January.

n L/Cpl Adam Drane, 23, became the 100th British solider to be killed in the conflict when he was shot dead by Taliban insurgents at a checkpoint near Nad-e Ali, in Helmand, in December last year.

A total of 298 UK troops have been killed in Afghanistan since British forces invaded in 2001.

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