Pegida UK Newcastle National Front
National Front supporters at the Pegida UK rally in Newcastle city centreIBT

A number of far-right groups turned out in Newcastle for a demonstration by the "anti-Islamisation" group Pegida, despite the organisation's leaders saying it wanted to keep extremists away.

Pegida UK's leaders struggled to keep control of supporters from the National Front, British National Party (BNP) and English Defence League (EDL), who made up a large chunk of the crowd, which numbered around 375.

At one point, a breakaway group chanting "scum, scum" burst through the police line to surge at counter-demonstrators holding an anti-Pegida banner, who were making their way towards the Pegida crowd, which was largely peaceful.

Pegida UK Newcastle
A man with a swastika on the back of his helmet holds a sign aloft amid the Pegida UK crowd in Newcastle.IBT

Pegida's official spokesman Matt Pope urged his supporters to stay peaceful and return to the main demonstration area in Bigg Market, but internal scuffles between different groups of the far-right broke out and police moved in to separate them.

"Get your backsides back down this side," shouted Robert Gray, a British Army veteran and speaker at the Pegida UK event, from the stage.

"Don't listen to what other people are doing. You are here to hear a message. That message is peace. We do not want any groups of this crowd to show disrespect to people in Newcastle."

As the group carried on surging forward and scuffling between themselves, Gray said that is "exactly what they are enticing - they are enticing a reaction, a reaction that is negative".

Matt Pope Pegida UK
Matt Pope of Pegida UKIBT

There was a large police presence throughout the city centre, with officers lining the streets. Mounted police were also on hand for the event, which coincided with a home match for Newcastle United football club.

The protest fell far short of the 25,000 supporters who turned out in the German city of Dresden, where Pegida originates, for its first ever rally in October 2014. Pegida is an acronym of the German for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West.

The group claims to stand against the influence of radical Islam on Western society. It wants tighter immigration controls and believes that Islam is eroding Western cultural identities. Pegida demands the "protection of Judeo-Christian culture".

Its de facto leader is Lutz Bachmann, a graphic designer with a history of convictions for drugs and burglary offences for which he has spent time in prison. He temporarily left the group after a photo emerged of him jokingly impersonating Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, but has since returned to the Pegida fold.

Pegida UK's first rally was smaller than a several hundred strong counter-demonstration being held just up the road by Newcastle Unites, a group made up of local community organisations, trade unions and Newcastle United supporters, among others.

One of the speakers at the Pegida UK rally was Paul Weston, leader of the right-wing Liberty GB party and a popular figure at anti-Islam protests. His fiery speech drew large cheers from the crowd.

"We all know why we are here. We are here because nobody else really who should be talking about the problems in this country are talking about it," Weston said.

"It shouldn't be down to us to come here and explain that although there are moderate Muslims in this country, Islam is not a religion of peace."

Paul Weston Liberty GB
Paul Weston, leader of the Liberty GB party.IBT

Some of the Pegida supporters were not from any particular group. Adrian Lakeman had travelled up from Derby for the demonstration at Bigg Market.

"I just think it's important for British people to stand together for a change," he told IBTimes UK.

"I just think generally the immigration situation is hard to control. There's just too much of it."

Another man, who would only identify himself as Kevin and is a full-time carer for his handicapped daughter, was with the EDL.

"We're just not happy with the way the government is running this country at the minute," he told IBTimes UK.

A few hundred yards up the road as Weston spoke, around 2,000 Newcastle Unites supporters were gathered in opposition to the Pegida UK rally, according to police figures.

Dipu Ahad, a Labour councillor in Newcastle and organiser of Newcastle Unites, told IBTimes UK that he had received death threats because of the counterdemonstration he was helping to organise. One person, he said, had told him they would behead him.

Dipu Ahad Newcastle Unites
Dipu Ahad (centre) at the Newcastle Unites counterdemonstration.IBT

"It's not going to stop me. It's not going to deter me. I'm here to fight for people's rights and I'll carry on doing that no matter when, no matter how," he told IBTimes UK.

"We are here to show what Newcastle is about, what the UK is about. I think today has been unique. When we heard Pegida was coming to town, we were baffled as to why they chose this city.

"But when we started organising the counterdemonstration ... for the first time, we've seen that so many different communities want to get involved against this hate."

Ahad added: "I thank Pegida for showing our unity. I thank Pegida for bringing us all together."

Steve Routliffe of the Veterans for Peace group served in the Royal Fusiliers for a decade and saw action in three tours of Iraq and one of Afghanistan. He was with the Newcastle Unites demonstrators.

Steve Routliffe Veterans for Peace
Steve Routliffe of Veterans for PeaceIBT

"Newcastle's community needs to come together to let [Pegida] know that their views aren't acceptable," he told IBTimes UK.

"I think they're hiding behind [their] title in order to appeal to a silent majority of people who are against Islam, which as you can see is not the case today."

Pegida UK spokesman Pope said that London would be the destination for its next demonstration.