"Extremism, a centre for terrorism" – these are just some of the dreadful and frankly unwarranted things that people have begun to associate with Luton. It is time we put the record
straight. These recent press stories have also made Luton attractive to national groups who want to make this Town a focus for their own objectives. Enough is enough. Luton is our town and the people who live here work hard to co-exist, ensuring community cohesion. We don’t need people using our town as an excuse to stir up ill feeling or suggest that we are not patriotic.
The Second Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, known as The Poachers, has the freedom of the borough. Its members – whether White, Black or Asian – include young men and women from our town and we are proud of them all. Whether or not you agree with them being sent to war zones, that is no reason to harrass brave men and women who are simply doing their job. The recent protest by the handful of people who subjected the Poachers to ignorant and unacceptable abuse was not authorised by Luton Borough Council or the Police. Groups of all faiths, shapes and sizes across the borough condemned the action. Some groups, not necessarily connected to Luton, reacted by trying to arrange a march in support of the troops at very short notice. Their recent claims that we have banned such action are without foundation. Democracy and freedom of speech are fundamental rights of our community and this allows anyone to apply to hold a march. But the Council, and the Police, have a duty to keep people safe.
To ensure public safety there are clear rules forassessing any such application, beginning with prior notice of six weeks and a risk assessment to ensure the safety of the public and those who intend to march. There is however no license to say anything you want. Freedom of speech needs to be used properly and responsibly. Marches which break the law, such as inciting riot or fuelling racial hatred, will not be considered under any circumstances. We will not have our Town and community threatened by such action. We will however do what we can to ensure those seeking to express their view within the law can have that opportunity. The Council and its partners in the Town are committed to supporting and sustaining all communities in this Town and promoting community cohesion. This takes time, patience, goodwill, compromise and understanding from us all.
Luton is certainly not perfect and like many other towns we have to work hard at living in harmony which we do - anyone who was with Luton Town FC at Wembley would have seen the diversity of this Town standing together celebrating their victory. All we ask is that people, and in particular some members of the media, focus on the many positive aspects of life in Luton.