It was only a matter of time before some self-righteous commentator would cheapen the tragedy of Raoul Moat and Derrick Bird’s murders by making some tenuous and offensive connection between them. This week, the prize goes to Rod Liddle, who in one foul-mouthed swoop has managed to offend just about half the nation.

Writing in the latest spectator, Liddle highlights the fact that in both the Moat and Bird cases – plus the Shannon Matthews abduction case – the protagonists were all northern. “The more callous among you might well argue that it doesn’t really matter, as these madmen are only shooting other northerners, and so it is therefore none of our business,” he writes. “But there is no guarantee that the next deranged northerner will not get on a train, if he can afford it, and start shooting at us, instead.”

Being a northerner, I find this crudely offensive. How dare he equate all northerners with ravaging serial killers intent on ending innocent peoples’ lives. This smug, polarisation of ‘us and them’ seems to be inherent in a large portion of southerners. Having lived in London for five years I experienced it way too frequently.

My first taste of southern ignorance was when I was chatting to a girl from the well-to-do area of Windsor after just starting university in Kingston. After listening to her moan about not visiting much of Britain, I told her she should visit the north. “I would do but I’m scared of being impregnated,” she replied. I waited for a sarcastic smirk or a cheeky wink but nothing came, just a dry and bemused face. I was left bewildered at the sheer callowness of her statement. How could she be serious? Are we inferior?

Well I announce with pride that this is not the case. The north by no means is more dangerous or deranged than the south. It is true perhaps that we are a little less inhibited, but violent criminals we are not. A large portion of the north – just as the south – is full of warm hearted and peaceful areas where residents respect one another. These atrocities occurred in quiet northern villages where community spirit thrived. This is a factor in what made the events so shocking in the first place. Just as many commentators do, Liddle failed to do his research, and instead produced a knee jerk reaction with comment that is designed to antagonise.

Looking at the statistics, it is a myth that the south is safer than the north when comparing crime against population. A government report by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust has published the top 10 most dangerous places to live in England & Wales.

The top ten are:

  1. North Manchester
  2. Sheffield
  3. Southampton
  4. City of Westminster
  5. Leicester City
  6. Middlesbrough
  7. Hackney
  8. Kingston Upon Hull
  9. Southwark
  10. Lewisham

Let me highlight that half of these places are from the south and in particular, London. So why then would Liddle so acrimoniously launch a weigh-in with the north? Further bemusement is stirred when considering Liddle actually lived in the sleepy northern market town of Gainsborough for over ten years before moving to London. If his traumatising experience of gun toting northerners was so scarred in his memory, then surely he would have cited his past experiences of living up north.

I can only conclude that he flew south for one reason – money. This is why the South (in particular London), has become a hotbed for this caustic view that northerners are more dangerous and violent. Too many pretentious high earning Londoners remain ignorant to the fact that their beloved city is not just the capital of England, but the capital of violence. Until smarmy toffs like Liddle pull their heads out of their rears and begin addressing the wider concerns of unemployment, poverty and violence – which happens all over England – then the public such as I will be forced to listen to unsophisticated immature commentary on issues that deserve more respect.

As Liddle says, “There is no guarantee that the next deranged northerner will not get on a train, if he can afford it, and start shooting at us, instead.”

No Rod. Not “us”, just you.

In the build up to The Times’ and Sunday Times’ audacious paywall move in June, both papers will be meticulously planning a business model that will generate much needed revenue while blocking those who aim to sidestep online charges. Now one savvy web developer has thrown another spanner into the works.

James Bourne, 45, an IT manager from Leicestershire, has created software which can be legally and freely downloaded enabling the public to break through paywalls set up by the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal – and The Times is next on his hit list.

Available for Internet Explorer and soon, Firefox, BreakThePaywall works by deleting cookies employed by sites such as the FT which limit the number of free stories the user is given before hitting the paywall. Deleting cookies means the publisher’s site forgets how close the reader is to the ‘pay up’ threshold.

BreakThePaywall challenges Google’s First-Click-Free scheme where newspaper publishers allow access via Google to get high up on the search ratings yet still charge users for subscription after they exceed a certain amount of free viewing on their site.

“As I saw something that was allowing certain amounts of access that then cuts you off I realised there was something wrong with that. You just can’t do that technically,” says Bourne.

“I looked at it a further and realised that it wasn’t just incompetence on their part as to why they were doing this – they were doing it deliberately to make money.

“These websites use techniques that Google describe as ‘cloaking’ whereby the website presents a different page to users than they present to the search index. The whole idea is to make sure your site is high in the search index results whilst charging for content and getting income from advertising.”

The FT and Wall Street Journal currently employ such techniques and The Times is set to mirror their business model offering a free trial, allowing a certain amount of access while cloaking Google content. Both rely on Google to send traffic their way yet still charge for online content. Usually Google will shut off websites from their index if they are found to use these techniques, but many websites are tolerated by Google if they allow access to the same page from their search results.

“I’m infuriated at the fact that such sites are advertising this paywall system to existing customers and new customers who are paying good money in the belief that they need to,” says Bourne.

 “A lot of their customers would be furious if they suddenly found out that it was accessible for free through Google or they could legally access it by simply changing cookies on their computer. All they are effectively paying for is single click access.  I just cannot see why they would do this as a business plan.”

Will Murdoch's paywall system pay off in a struggling market?

Bourne believes the underhand agreement between Google and online papers is a sign of things to come. Interestingly, Wall Street Journal does not allow Microsoft’s Bing search engine to cloak their content. As it is Wall Street Journal that implements whether a referring website such as Google gains access or not, this suggest its allegiance lies with Google rather than Bing or any other engine.

“I suppose it’s Google giving way a little to the companies which I’m very worried about. Everyone thinks Google is the be all and end all now. Google is becoming much more of a multinational company and the internet is going to start changing. There may be more and more of these deals behind closed doors going on.”

With such major implications for online newspapers’ finance, Bourne may well face a legal respite but insists what he is doing is legal.

“It’s frightening because I’m taking on the powers that be. I don’t see any legal ramifications because any of these methods that I’ve employed you can actually do yourself. You’re allowed to delete cookies – it’s your machine. You’re not doing anything wrong. In my view it’s the websites that are using that technology in the incorrect way that are the moral criminals.”

A number of media law firms failed to comment on the legality of BreakThePaywall, with many stating the case would not be within their jurisdiction. As Bourne’s methods still remain a grey area, it spurs calls for new legislation to clarify the matter.

While many law specialists give little legal clarification concerning BreakThePaywall, it is not the first program to test online news site security. Started in 2003, BugMeNot.com allowed users to dodge subscription sites by simply borrowing someone else’s login. This spawned many other sites which use these modern methods to give relief to users who are angry at the increasing clamp down on free content.

The belief that online news should be free long predates such ideals in today’s technological playing field. Since the dawn of the internet, academics alike have shared a view that internet content should be free of charge. The internet was first developed as an academic tool between universities such as MIT, Stanford and UCLA in the ‘70s.

When the first commercial service providers went live in the late ‘70s there was outrage in the academic community that their project was being used to make money. And so the battle began. Now newspapers are facing a bigger challenge than academics who are peeved at the media stripping the sanctity of their sacred internet. How do they stop web hackers and software developers from stealing their content – lawfully or unlawfully?

Mindy McAdams is a journalist, lecturer and leading web developer at the University of Florida who has been studying new media journalism for over a decade.

“I expect The Times will soon react by getting their programmers to write new codes to block the programming used by BreakThePaywall.com,” argues McAdams.

“Then BreakThePaywall will change its code. The news sites will change theirs again and again. And so on. Eventually, Bourne will probably give up. If he does not, then the news sites might seek serious redress in the courts.”

Mindy McAdams, a leading academic at the University of Florida

While some may view BreakThePaywall as a useful tool against companies trying to milk the cash cow, McAdams is a firm believer in the sanctity of online journalism and its need for revenue to continue.

“I do believe news is a public good but you have to be practical. I know a newspaper can’t produce news and pay journalists unless they have income. The wonderful idea that news belongs to the public falls on its face. Journalists can’t work for free when they have families to feed.

“Currently online advertising is not generating enough revenue to pay for the journalists so these companies are simply trying to find another way to bring in income in order to produce the product. They have to make money in a normal capitalistic way.”

Newspapers declining readership means lower ad revenue forcing them to find other ways to generate money

When questioned on how The Times plans to deal with the torrent of web hackers and developers like Bourne who will relentlessly try to find cracks within their paywall, it remained secretive.

A spokesperson for The Times Online stated: “As the website is still yet to be launched, this type of information cannot be divulged.”

It can only be speculated that The Times remains silent to prevent developers producing new and advanced software aimed to break the paywall. Yet one thing is for certain. Whatever paywall it erects to prop up a struggling newspaper market, there will always be those who are ready to break through the cracks. Newspapers are a dying industry desperately in need of a fresh and solid business model, and if The Times fail to provide tight online security, Murdoch will inevitably be watching his paywall crumble at his feet.

Polygamy is defined within the Oxford Dictionary as “the custom of having more than one wife at the same time”. To some men this may sound like a salacious dream. After intense investigation I find out that it can also be a woman’s worst nightmare, and often with grave consequences.

A young girl lies on the floor, her face battered beyond recognition. Her skirt has been pulled up to show her shame. Her skull has been crushed into the ground. Her crime? For falling in love.

Du’a Khalil Aswad is one of many young girls to fall down to the hands of merciless and bloodthirsty men for merely having her own will in Kurdistan and Iraq. She had been dating a Sunni boy. Her family practised the Yezidi religion. The Sunnis and Yezidis are bitter enemies. The men who killed her thought this was justice. Asides all the bloodshed and the barbaric violations of human rights the government did not intervene.

On 27 October 2008, under much pressure from women across the country, the Kurdistan government passed a new Personal Status Law. It was aimed to give women more freedom and protect them from the barbaric violations of women’s rights they endure daily. A main breakthrough was getting the government to tighten the laws on polygamy, also known as plural marriage. Yet this has still not stopped the extreme cases of violence against women in the country.

One of the sections of the new law states that a man must ask permission of his wife before re-marrying. This causes great concern for Sawsan Salim, an active member for Kurdistan Refugee Women’s Organisation (KRWO).

“After 18 years of violence against Kurdish women all we get is yet again another law that discriminates women,” she said. “When men don’t gain the permission of their wives to re-marry they just beat it out of them.”

Salim has been campaigning for over 15 years to end the violence in Kurdistan. She believes the problem lies at the top of the system, under the government’s rule, and that the new laws passed are still not enough.

“We want to abolish patriarchy all together. Women are totally isolated from political and social life,” she said. “The right to life has been taken away from us. It is a systematic attack, a political attack on women. It is done by the authorities. They want to set an example to women that you cannot breach the rules.”

Salim’s comments may be seen as radical but serious crimes are constantly being committed on British Muslim women as a result of polygamy. The British government states its will to respect other cultures and give equal opportunities to all men and women. It therefore allows Muslim men to bring their wives into Britain, providing the men married their wives in their home country. This is causing serious concern among British Muslim women as these men are not only bringing their wives into the country – but also their patriarchal and potentially dangerous cultural beliefs. One man having multiple wives creates tension between the families within the marriage. Jealousy occurs between the wives. If the wives wish to leave their husbands, this can often plummet into honour-based violence with grave consequences.

“We’re talking about murder, rape and kidnapping including the abuse of children.

“Honour-based violence is committed predominantly but not exclusively by men to control female autonomy and sexuality,” said Detective Superintendent, Gerry Campbell.

Leading the London Metropolitan’s Violent Crime and Public Protection Command, Campbell understands the delicate cultural issues behind polygamy. Polygamy is not recognised by British law which can leave women potentially subjected to abuse and exploitation. It can leave women without access to financial and other forms of inheritance rights. It can potentially lead to them being without the support of family members and the social structure they are used to living in.  With no such governmental protection, polygamy can lead to forced marriages if a wife does not consent to an arranged marriage.

“Cultural sensitivity is no excuse for moral blindness,” adds Campbell. “25% of all victims of forced marriage last year we’re young girls under the age of 18. Young girls being taken to different parts of the world, isolated and alone are physically and sexually abused day after day after day.”

 His comments provide a stark insight into the brutal reality of patriarchal control and how many women are suffering as a consequence.  Unfortunately, the torture spreads further than the borders of Kurdistan and Iraq. Patriarchy is permeated throughout many countries of Muslim faith.

Just two months ago, two young girls were buried alive in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, simply for attempting to choose their own husbands. They were shot to injure them, and then dragged screaming and bleeding to a pit where they were crushed with rocks. The government response caused outrage among women in Muslim communities. Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents the Baluchistan province in the Pakistani parliament, insisted that murdering uppity girls is a “tribal custom” which should be respected, while one minister even threatened to resign if the men were punished. Being buried alive, burned alive and burnt with acid are just some of the methods men use to attack their wives in so called “honour”.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Head of The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, has been researching such atrocities for several years. He is one of the first Muslim leaders to champion womens’ causes against forced marriage, domestic violence and murder in the name of honour.

“I have been studying this issue for years and it’s still near enough impossible to find a women who will speak out against their husbands if they are suffering domestic abuse,” he said. “They don’t want to upset the social structure.”

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui speaks at a press conference in London after two girls are buried alive in Pakistan in "honour"

Dr Siqqui is now leading a campaign against child abuse within faith-based environments, co-authoring a report on the subject.

“It is also the children that suffer within polygamous marriages. They often feel great jealousy towards their brothers under their father’s wives,” he said. “Also the father is not around all the time as he may be with his other families so this can develop into great emotional detachment from the child.”

The Kurdistan regional government are reluctant to comment to the press regarding the subject. Perhaps because they are fully aware of the injustices surrounding them but do not wish for it to change. Recently, with the support of British citizens, the KWWO sent a resolution to them demanding to abolish the polygamy law and provide more protection to Kurdish women. When, if ever, they decide to act upon it is unknown. But for girls like Du’a, sadly, it may be too little too late.

Sources 

Detective Gerry Campbell speaking at a conference on polygamy at London South Bank University, 28/03/2009 

Sawsam Salim, International campaigner for KRWO, speaking at a conference on polygamy at London South Bank University, 28/03/2009 

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Head of The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain. Interviewed by email, 03/04/09. Also interviewed by telephone 05/04/09. drsiddiqui@talk21.com 

Saunders Singer, political activist for women’s liberation in Kurdistan. Interviewed by email 01/04/09. maxsaunderssinger@yahoo.com

I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to be beaten up by a girl, so I hawled my wimpish ass down to Manchester to meet Pippa Lvinn – one of Britain’s top female wrestlers. She didn’t hold back.

Legend has it that in the hard city of Manchester there dwells a woman. A woman who wears a cape and flies through the air. A woman who can make the toughest of men run home with their tails firmly between their legs, crying for their mother’s bitty. A woman that can be seen flying around the globe gaining recognition and notoriety for her super powers and sinister acts.  This is no ordinary woman. This is Pippa Lvinn, female wrestler, and today in a cold industrial warehouse, I have met my match.

Born in Rochdale, Pippa Lvinn moved to Manchester when she was nine. Angelic, prim, sweet, all the attributes you’d expect of a young girl – Pippa was none of these. She began her martial arts career as a Taekwondo artist at ten and then focused her skills on judo. It was these skills that would provide a base for her legacy. Now she has evolved. Winning the PGWA belt (Professional Girls Wrestling Association) and kicking ten bells of shit out of blokes twice her size, she is now an established professional wrestler, and a hell of a force to be reckoned with.

Pippa Lvinn - a sultry temptress with a sadistic bite

In a run down car park I must admit I’m nervous as I watch Pippa pull up outside her gym. I’m greeted by a woman who is much shorter than I imagine but this still does not put me at ease – I hear the relatively small pit-bull has the biggest bite. We embrace a firm handshake and she begins to lead me up some long winding steel steps till we come to a large cast-iron door. As she heaves the door open I half expect a chamber of drab concrete walls and instruments of torture but what I’m greeted with is something completely different.

The lights switch on and there before me is a warm gym full of colourful wrestling memorabilia and bright flags lavishly sprawled across the walls. I see photos of smiling female wrestlers in an array of extravagant costumes. In such an inviting atmosphere it’d be easy to be fooled into a false sense of security, but what goes on in here is brutal. Blood may be spilt. Bones may be broken. Faces may be mauled. I’m beckoned to the ropes and welcomed into the ring by Pippa’s wicked grin. It is time.

She smashes her back to floor showing me how to land on the canvas without snapping my neck. It’s called bumping. The lesson is short as I’m suddenly slammed to the deck. This is no bump. I expect something half way between an Ikea mattress and a trampoline but what I get feels like a bed of granite. The impact rips the wind out of my chest and I begin gasping for air, flapping around like a desperate fish. A new found fear and respect for wrestlers emerges in an instant. This to them, is the easy shit, the day to day stuff. I’m on the floor in pieces wailing like a complete pussy.

Here I am inspecting the floor for dirt as she takes a breather...

I manage to regain some sort of decorum but it’s short-lived. She clotheslines me to the floor and wraps her arms around my chicken neck in a move infamously known as the Indian Deathlock, squeezing so hard my eyes bulge out.  I feel blood vessels begin to pop in my face.

As she pushes her elbow into my shoulder crevice my arm goes into spasms. I squeal whole hog begging her to let go but she doesn’t. She screams “tap out” so I quickly slam my palm down to the deck, exhausted and humiliated. I guess in a cruel way she likes to play by the rules. I then feel her beating down on my manhood with her heel and I swear my testicles are going to implode.

"Smile for the camera bitch!"

The torture ends. I thank her like a child would coyly thank his teacher after being viciously wrapped around the knuckles with a cane – my voice a few octaves higher. I sharply make my exit.

As a spectator on the outside of the ring you need balls to watch the painful display Pippa gives, reigning her meat cleaver fists into unfortunate male lamb chops. To be inside the ring with her, well, you’d have to want to lose your balls.  If I ever brave a visit to her gym again, shit yeah I know which side of the ring I’d rather be on.

Sources

Interview with Pippa Lvinn at The Wrestling Factory, Manchester, 14/04/09.

The EDL is an organisation set up to protest against the Islamification of Britain. Although the group claim to be a non-violent organisation, it has staged a number of marches across England that have led to numerous arrests and displays of gratuitous violence. This is what happened when I went undercover with them to a high profile march in the highly multicultural city of Manchester. 

As the crowd of furious Asians blast against the fences screaming “evil fascists”, I’m hurled forward by a sea of white hooligans charging towards them baying for blood. Separating us is an army of riot police guarded heavily with armour, weaponry and rabid Alsatians. As I try to fight my way to the back of the brawl I’m flung forward again by the bodies storming into the officers.  I suddenly see the glare of a wild dog thrashing its head as a riot officer awkwardly tries to restrain it. The officer begins to march towards me. The dog salivates and snarls, bracing itself to pounce. It crouches and its frantic eyes pierce into mine. As it flies towards me through the air with its mouth gaping, revealing rows of dagger-like teeth, all I can think is “how did I get into this?” 

On 20th August this year I become a member of the English Defence League – a group that purport to be a “non-violent, non-racist organisation”, whose principle aim according to its website is to “peacefully protest against militant Islam”. The group’s most recent protest have proved far from peaceful.  On 5 August 2009, Birmingham bullring played host to a series of brutal clashes between EDL members and the anti-fascism group United Against Fascism (UAF). With 90 arrests and many injured, the event signified the grim reality of growing racial tension in Britain. Speculation has also risen within the press about the EDL’s involvement with right-wing groups such as the BNP, although the group claim it is not affiliated. 

I sign up to the website and I am alarmed at how easy it is to join. Perhaps this explains why the group has risen from seven members to 4,482 in less than two months. The forum leads me to discussions between fellow members. Their indignation and anger towards the rise of Britain’s Islamic population is all too clear. One member under the name of HeanorEDL said, echoing Winston Churchill: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall never surrender.” 

One of the main members, under the name of PatriotMissile states: “History will hail the bravery and the stoicism shown by certain individuals, the same individuals that are today being labelled ‘Fascists’, we shall be recognised for our individual sacrifices, soon! 

I read on and many members on the forum seem to stand by the fact that the EDL are a peaceful organisation. Yet how can this explain why an organisation proclaiming to be peaceful activists is filmed on YouTube chanting from the top of a bus “Mohammed is a paedo” to young Muslims, and how violence had so easily erupted in Birmingham? 

EDL members clash with police in Birmingham

I decide there is only one way to find out just who was responsible for all the violence – to go and see it myself. Under a false email address, I get in contact with the EDL’s Birmingham administrator nicknamed Pricey (real name Richard Price). He explains to me he is organising a coach to take members from Birmingham to Manchester city centre for the EDL’s next protest – one which many members are now calling “the big one”.  I’m sent secret emails warning me about the UAF and quotes from the police stating that there may be “serious consequences” if we are to meet at the proposed spot of Piccadilly Gardens. According to one of the main organisers, who goes under the name of ‘Lady England’, the police have informed her that some members of the UAF have warned that there will be violence in the centre if the EDL proceed to march in the gardens. I’m later sent an email stating that the EDL are not to move and that it is “our protest so fuck the UAF”. The march is set. 

I find myself waking up in a cold and cramped hotel room in Birmingham city centre. The date is 15th October. The knowledge of what is ahead of me and the violent ramifications make me feel sick to the stomach. According to EDL, members of the UAF are “lusting for blood”. Unless the police have complete control, there is certainly going to be violence. The question is, just how serious is it going to be? 

I have no recording equipment except for my phone camera. I was warned the police were strictly searching any member of the EDL before the protest began. My only possession besides my phone is a small notebook. My excuse is that it is to keep directions in and numbers if I needed to call anyone should my phone die out. If the members see my notepad laced with damning short-hand notes, I believe I’ll almost certainly be at risk of a vicious attack. 

Last night, Pricey gave me directions to a pub in Birmingham where ‘The Birmingham Division’ would meet before travelling to Manchester. I feel uneasy that my first encounter with a group of right-wing extremists will be set in such an intimate venue. I will have to sit and drink with them, crack a few jokes, and above all try not to act suspicious. When I arrive, the coach is waiting outside the pub. I feel slightly relieved yet this is soon overtaken by a feeling of intimidation as the eyes of several members holding cans of lager become fixed on me as I walk towards the coach. “Alright boys, is this coach heading for Manchester?” I said. “Yeah mate, how’s it going?” one member said. He is small and stocky with a tattoo on his neck. “Fucking knackered mate, too early for me,” I said. He laughs in agreement and leads me onto the coach. 

I’m greeted by the driver, whom everyone calls ‘Deano’. He is tall, well-built, and his face is covered in scars. “Pricey’s been nicked,” he said. “The police did him for inciting racial discrimination.”  I try to look as shocked as possible, as if was a close friend of mine who has been arrested. He frowns and turns to another member sitting at the front of the coach. “They found him in possession of stun guns and cocaine as well,” he laughs, almost as if it was a matter of fact. The other member shakes his head and smiles. I began to realise the sort of people I’m dealing with. 

From the outset, I realise that words like “Paki” and “raghead” are commonplace between the members. Early into the journey two Asian men begin to drive past in a lorry. One member sat in front of me pulls out a porn magazine of a mixed race ‘woman’ with a penis – her legs bared as wide as possible flaunting a huge erection. He presses it against the window. The member then shouts in a voice mimicking a Pakistani accent: “You like this yes? Stick your Qur’an up your fucking arse,” to which everyone on the coach then responds with a chorus of laughter. 

The longer I spend with the EDL, the more I realise that many of them are members of violent football firms. I can hear a large group at the back talking about different firms with a sense of respect at their size and capacity for violence. One member says: “Luton boys, they ain’t the biggest but they’ll have a go. Now Cardiff, that’s a firm that’ll really fuck you up. We had a good go against them when they came to city.” 

The EDL Nazi salute - a group they strongly claim they are not affiliated with

Later on, a bus full of Asians slowly drive past our coach. I can instantly feel tension as members begin staring and some start cracking jokes about ‘terrorist bombers’. One member suggests to “break through the fire exit door and storm the fuckers”. I can’t quite tell how serious his intentions are. I hope not, as half the people on the bus are children. 

As we approach Manchester, one member receives a call from one of the EDL’s main organisers telling him we are to drive to Bolton and get the train from there, as Manchester MET police are not allowing EDL coaches into the city’s bus station. We change course and head for Bolton. 

On arriving into Bolton we are stopped by a small army of police and escorted to a pub opposite the train station. I’m greeted by many members of the Bolton, Manchester and Luton divisions – mostly skin-heads. I feel an overwhelming sense of camaraderie as many of them shake our hands and pat us on the back like we are members of their family. I realise why many of the members have joined. The feeling of belonging to something big gives me a rush but I have to remind myself what I really belong to, and of course its purpose. I try not to let myself fall into a false sense of security. I know I’m surrounded by some of the oldest (and hardest) football firm members in the country. One member boasts of how he nearly beat someone to death in a “fucking legendary game back in the early Nineties”. 

I buy a pint and before I have time to finish it we are moving on. Many members begin to put on masks as a ‘direct protest to Bhurkas’, but rather than making a political point I feel it makes the crowd look even more threatening. 

By the time we’ve moved into Bolton’s overcrowded station the EDL is an intimidating sight. Nationalist chants rattle around the station walls accompanied by a chorus of God Save The Queen. Members then begin chanting “We like Bacon” and “Muslim bombers off our streets”. I can see members of the public (particularly Asians) rush out of the way with fear. I quickly pull out my phone-camera and begin recording several videos. One member, a well built skin-head – who from his accent was likely to be from the Chelsea division – stares at me for some time until I put my camera away. He looks enraged. He storms over to me. 

“Where are your mates?” he says. “I don’t really have any, I came here on my own,” I reply. “Why the fuck do you keep filming, I know it, I know it, you’re Old Bill,” he shouts. I tell him that I was due to come up to Manchester with a mate but he had been “pussy-whipped by his girlfriend” and therefore couldn’t make it. By this point I’m scared. I’m six foot and I feel insignificant in comparison to him. He grabs my shoulder with his thick arm. It is covered in tattoos of bulldogs and flags. “You’re a fucking journo aren’t ya?” he snaps as his teeth grind together and his eyes penetrate into mine, shaking with rage. “No, you’re the fucking journo,” I whisper quietly into his ear, and then quickly disappear into the crowd. 

When the train arrives for Manchester I place myself among the oldest group of members – all late-30s and 40s. Again, talk of football firms seems indigenous. One member, around six-foot-four with a skin-head, brags of his initiation into Birmingham City Football Club’s firm at fifteen years old. He says: “I remember when one of the heads asked me if I wanted in, I said ‘yes’ so then he smashed my face in and told me to get used to it,” to which other members of the group laugh hysterically. He goes on to brag how he always tried to carry a knife to football games. I begin to feel very uneasy and find it hard to chat to them without feeling suspicious. I keep quiet and listen, trying to nod and laugh at the correct times. 

Arriving in Manchester we are met by hundreds of police officers and are tightly escorted outside the station. Police begin to tell all EDL members to take their masks off to avoid being arrested, inciting the anger of fellow gang members. One member refuses, snapping at a woman police officer: “If Muslims can wear Bhurkas, why can’t we wear these?” The officer tells him that Muslims wear them because of their religion, to which he screams: “Well this is our fucking religion! One country, one rule.” 

We are then led around the city centre marching on main road traffic lanes that the police have cordoned off to let us through. We are heavily guarded by officers. The EDL begin to sing as loudly as possible. Rule Britannia choruses over the traffic. We are praised with thumbs up by some drivers who pass us by but most just keep their heads down and carry on driving. 

I suddenly feel a hand on my shoulder and I’m pulled around so fast it feels like my body has contorted. It’s the man who had earlier accused me of being a journalist. “Why the fuck are you still here? Where the fuck are your friends?” he said. By this point I was getting increasingly agitated. Weighing up his size and my increasingly-aggressive mood the thought of smashing him down to the ground with a quick right hook runs through my mind but is instantly suppressed with the realisation of its likely consequences. 

“Mate,” I say, “I’m not a fucking journalist. It’s hard enough coming on my own so why don’t you just leave me alone. We’re in the same boat here alright?” He seems unconvinced by my attempt to rationalise. He then turns to other members and begins shouting about me. He attracts a lot of attention from members who also start questioning why I have a bag and what’s in it. I’m able to lay them off by jovially saying I’m Al-Qaeda and I have a bomb in it. They start to laugh and I realise this is a good time to head towards the front of the march, where members aren’t as suspicious of my identity. 

When we eventually hit Piccadilly Street – Manchester’s main shopping street in the centre – the police have aligned officers on horses to escort us to Piccadilly Gardens. As we pass through the streets chanting “Get Al-Qaeda off our streets”. Many cheer while some protestors scream “fascists” and “Nazis” at us. We’re snapped with cameras from the long line of news photographers. I cover my face with my hand. Suddenly violence erupts at the back of the march. I hear screaming and many members turn and charge towards the conflict. I stand back. I have never been this close to such chaos and it terrifies me. I turn to an officer and blurt out: “You have to let me out, I’m an undercover journalist.” 

He doesn’t hear me and pushes me back into the crowd. I turn and there stood behind me is a member of ‘The Birmingham Division’. As he glares at me, I realise he has heard what I said to the officer. He instantly begins texting people on his phone. I fear the worst – a black eye, a broken nose, and cracked ribs.  Before I can further panic, the police have retained control and we are moving on again. 

As we reach Piccadilly Gardens, I hear heavy growls and barks coming from all angles. The police have lined up a fleet of Alsatians. We are marched into the gardens. Metal fences separate us from the counter-protestors, including the UAF. In between us and the fences are a large unit of police in riot gear. I’m desperate to leave but they have cordoned off the entrance. I feel trapped like an animal in a steel cage waiting to be slaughtered. 

 The EDL begin to sing the national anthem. This is greeted with mainly silence from the counter-demonstrators, but suddenly things begin to turn nasty as the EDL’s chant becomes increasingly racist. Hundreds of EDL members scream “we want our country back” and “you dirty Muslim bastards”. The chanting goes on for 20 minutes. I feel it’s just a matter of time before UAF members will react. 

Angry UAF members demo against the EDL

Just as some EDL members turn their backs, young Asians storm the fences trying to rip through. Hundreds of EDL members burst towards them but are quickly fended off by the large barrier of police, heavily guarded by armour and weaponry. Some members are dragged to the floor and quickly handcuffed while others keep charging forward. As I try to move back I feel myself being dragged to the front of the conflict by the mass of enraged hooligans rushing forward towards the fighting. As I try to fight my way back again I’m pushed further towards the pit of flying fists. 

By now, the police are marching the dogs towards the front of the conflict. One officer armed with a large and fierce Alsatian paces towards me and I can see its sharp teeth bare as it barks and salivates. As it goes in for the kill I suddenly fall back. A man from behind is pushed forward into the dog. The Alsatian clamps his arm and rips it apart like a piece of meat. He begins to scream. His arm displays a huge laceration like a sliced piece of raw chicken. 

Police dogs violently attack EDL members forcing them to retreat

I clamber out of the way and head towards the middle of the protest where I feel the safest, surrounded by bodies. I’m wrong. It’s him again. “You fucking journo.” This time he’s surrounded by raging faces all pointing at me – the journo. “I knew it, Damo told me he heard you talking to a fucking pig,” he screams. I stand my ground. “What Damo heard was me telling the pig that you thought I was a journo,” I scream back. “Listen,” I say. “I can’t fucking be assed with this anymore.” I open the insides of my bag and show him the contents – a bottle of water, a pen and a print off of my rights. “See,” I said with conviction. I know how close I am to my identity being found. It could have been further compromised hadn’t I hidden the small pad of shorthand in a secret pocket earlier. But the thugs don’t believe a word. I realise I only have one choice – to run. I quickly flee to the back of the crowd where the police guard the entrance. 

Many members who didn’t want to join in with the violence wait patiently to be let out, but I can see The Birmingham Division stalwarts standing right next to the police officers. I whisper over to one officer “Can I be let out please?” “No,” he replies. “You signed yourself up to this now wait.” I can’t help but agree yet waiting is the last thing I want to do. I can see other members in the distance looking over at me. I have to reveal my identity. “Look I’m an undercover journalist. My identity has been compromised and I need to get out for fear of my own safety.” 

 “Do you have a helicopter? Because that’s the only way you’re getting out of here,” he smirks. I consider breaking through using brute force but then realised that a criminal record would ruin any ambitions I have, yet it seems an increasingly good idea as the group march over to me. I walk away from the police and try not to look suspicious. The group follows me, lead by the same man again. 

“You fucking prick, you wait till this is over. I’m gonna fucking stab you,” he snarls. I’ve had enough. I race through the bodies of screaming youths to the police Chief-Super-Intendent. I quickly tell him my story. “I don’t believe you,” he said. My heart sinks. “But I will let you out. Just make sure you let the officer take a picture of you before you officially exit.” 

As I walk away I turn and look back to discover the same EDL member stood there shaking his head. Despite all the chaos, his eyes are still fixed on me. I feel relieved but extremely shaken by what had just happened as the officer leads me through the riot officers and out a covert back exit. I’m quickly snapped by his camera in probably the most shameful photo I have ever posed for. I run out the exit and join into the crowds of shoppers casually going about their day. I’m back in civilisation. I make my way as quick as possible towards Manchester Victoria Station trying to avoid Piccadilly Station should any members be waiting for me. I jump onto the first train heading to safety. On the journey home, all I can hear is the chorus of chants repeatedly ringing through my brain, yet one particularly stood out. ‘I’m English till I die, I’m English till I die’. I smile and sit back. I know the feeling.