EXCL: Police shut down by-election hustings amid angry protest against Anne Marie Waters
A by-election hustings in Lewisham East was forced to shut down last night after police moved in to control an irate protest against an anti-Islam candidate.
Demonstrators turned up at the Salvation Army Hall in Catford to condemn the inclusion of Anne Marie Waters, who is standing in the contest under her For Britain banner.
The far-right activist - formerly of Labour then Ukip - is an avowed eurosceptic who campaigns against Islam and includes controversial English Defence League co-founder Tommy Robinson among her allies.
But anti-racism campaigners blocked the street outside the hall as police were forced to swarm in to control the protest.
Candidates who made it inside managed to make their opening remarks in the hustings before officers asked event organiser John Hamilton to close the debate down.
PoliticsHome understands Ms Waters was unable to battle the crowds and reach the hall due to security concerns.
Labour candidate Janet Daby - who is sure to win the election in the ultra-safe seat - had boycotted the event to avoid giving Ms Waters “the oxygen of publicity" by sharing a platform with her.
But one source who was present said: "What has happened here is Labour completely stifled the debate because they didn’t want to talk.
"They created a dangerous situation for the public and the candidates, then the whole thing had to be called off by the police."
'TRIUMPH FOR MOB RULE'
Organiser of the event John Hamilton told PoliticsHome: "It was a very useful exercise for those who were inside and were able to hear the candidates but it was a triumph in some senses for mob rule."
Eyewitnesses said between 30 and 40 police officers stepped in to control the crowd of around 100 or 150.
One protester made it into the hall and heckled the Ukip candidate David Kurten as he made his opening remarks.
Ms Waters took to Twitter to insist she did not pull out of the debate but was advised to do so by police.
'FANNING FLAMES OF INTOLERANCE'
Liberal Democrat candidate Lucy Salek said: "I will always defend the right to peaceful protest but the toxic and threatening atmosphere outside the hustings tonight was totally inappropriate.
"If Labour had attended the hustings they could have joined with me in defending our values.
"But instead they stayed away, fanning the flames of intolerance and refusing the people of Lewisham the chance to hear from those who wish to serve."
Women’s Equality Party candidate Mandu Reid said there had been "a vacuum where the biggest parties should have been standing shoulder-to-shoulder against hate".
She added: "In recent years both have chosen an approach of absorbing what political benefits they can from these fringes and ignoring the rest – both polluting the mainstream and making the fringes more toxic in the process."
A Labour spokesman said: "This has nothing whatsoever to do with the official Labour campaign.”
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: "A pre-planned hustings event at the Salvation Army centre in Brownhill Road, SE6 on the evening of Tuesday, 12 June, was closed at around 7:45pm with the permission of the event organiser following concerns for public safety after a large crowd gathered outside the premises.
"The majority of the crowds have since dispersed; there have been no reports of any injuries.
"One male was arrested on suspicion of assault but was subsequently de-arrested."
The seat became vacant after former Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander quit as MP to take a job at City Hall for Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. Voters head to the polls on 14 June.
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