FAR-RIGHT thugs who stormed a Newcastle club in a display of violence were today behind bars.
Members of the English Defence League (EDL) turned up at the Tyneside Irish Centre looking to infiltrate a meeting of political rivals.
It turned out their targets – the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) – were not even in the building after the EDL group were spotted in a nearby pub and officials called the meeting off fearing trouble.
But that did not stop a pack of up to 20 thugs, many wearing EDL hooded tops, from forcing entry, attacking door staff and setting off a fire extinguisher inside the Irish Centre in scenes captured on CCTV.
Now six of the gang have been locked up while three others received suspended jail terms.
Judge Roger Thorn, at Newcastle Crown Court, said: “This was a group attack on the democratic rights of others to have free association and exercise their freedom of speech.
“This behaviour cannot be tolerated, no matter how much you might dislike the views of the socialist party.
“These sentences must ensure a tit-for-tat revenge can be no option. Violence and threats of violence will not be tolerated by the EDL, SWP or indeed any other factions or groups of any kind.”
The SWP had been holding weekly meetings at the Tyneside Irish Centre, on Gallowgate, in the months before the incident.
On September 22 last year, yobs, described in court as being ‘aligned to the EDL’, met at nearby Rosie’s Bar.
That led to officials cancelling the proposed SWP meeting, fearing there would be trouble, and staff at the private members Irish Club were told not to let anyone in.
When one of the men in the EDL group, Peter Duffy, turned up, he was eventually let in so he could be shown none of his rivals were there.
Once inside he was pushed in the back by a member of staff and he retaliated by hitting the man.
Duffy was then bundled outside, where he was joined by a large group of other EDL sympathisers, who suddenly stormed the club, attacking two door staff. Jonathan Devlin, prosecuting, said: “One witness said around 20 people were outside Rosie’s Bar and they were staring across towards the Irish Centre.
“He said they ran towards the centre and when they came out he said there was a real sense of tension on the street and one man was rubbing his knuckles as if he had just punched someone.”
Mr Devlin said: “On September 22 last year several persons thought to be aligned with the EDL met at Rosie’s bar situated on the opposite side of the road.
“They forced themselves into the club foyer, a melee ensued and door staff were attacked.”
Peter Duffy, 44, of Elgin Avenue, Seaham, Colin Bell, 36, of St Oswalds Road, Hebburn, Anthony Burn, 48, of Lecondale Court, Leam Lane, Gateshead, Michael Garriock, 23, of Gibson Street, Wallsend, Barry Keddy, 34, of Deneholm, Wallsend, Alan Spence, 46, of Gerald Street, Benwell, Steven Spence, 27, of Wickham View, Denton Burn, Newcastle, and Paul Starr, 45, of Telford Street, East Howdon, North Tyneside, all admitted affray.
Nicholas Mills, 25, of Drumaldrace, Blackfell, Washington, and Colin Burton, 28, of Woodhave Court, South Shields, admitted public order offences.
Duffy was jailed for 10 months, Keddy got eight months, Garriock eight months, Steven Spence eight months, Alan Spence seven months and Burton seven months. Burn and Bell were sentenced to three months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with four week curfews. Starr was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with a similar curfew. Mills’ case was adjourned until later this month.
Robert Adams, defending, said the EDL had targeted the meeting after it was advertised on the internet under the heading “smash the EDL”.
Judge Thorn said he was not sentencing the men for their membership of any political party but for the premeditated violence.