A PROMINENT multicultural campaigner has spoken of her pride in Carlisle for its peaceful stance against far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

Saj Ghafoor, chief officer of Multicultural Cumbria, was among those present at an anti-fascism rally in the city centre on Wednesday.

The Carlisle Against Racism event was organised to coincide with a high-profile visit by Robinson and his supporters, bringing his Euro election campaign to the city.

As far-right and left wing political views clashed, there was a high police presence amid fears that tensions could spill over. However, aside from chants and a few insults, the evening passed off peacefully.

Mrs Ghafoor said: “This was the first rally I have ever been to. The small number of Tommy Robinson supporters were under 200 present. Out of those I wonder how many people were brought in from non-residents.

“I watched on with many thoughts going through my mind.

“I love Carlisle as it is my home and I have a deep sense of belonging and ownership of my city. I felt the kindness, compassion and unity with all who came out to reject such racism and outright lies.

“There is apathy and weariness with politics, local and national. But I felt no fear.

“Integration isn’t about forcing cultures or beliefs. It’s about sharing our commonalties to break down stereotyping and preconception. Getting angry or violent doesn’t solve anything. But you have to have both sides willing to listen. I’m proud of my city.”

Wednesday evening’s rallies saw the city centre taken over by two chanting crowds - one supporting the English Defence League founder in his bid to become an MEP and a second crowd opposing him, yelling accusations of racism at him.

Both sides were separated by dozens of police officers, some armed with video cameras.

Despite the strong and visible police presence, activists from both side loudly traded insults before Robinson addressed his supporters, and as he took to the stage.

Robinson himself hit out at the large number of police officers, saying he felt targeted.

Speaking before he went on stage, Robinson said: “I think they’re here to send a message that me being here is a bad thing.

“There’s been no trouble, there’ve been no problems.”

Widely regarded as far-right in his politics, he claimed the UK is being “Islamified”.

He added: “The British public need to send a message to the establishment.

“People have been censored; I’ve been censored. I’ve been taken off all social media. I’m now fighting an unfair election.”

He insisted he was not racist - but opposed to Islamic “ideology”.

Among his supporters was Northumberland farmer Roy Henderson, who said he has given “thousands” of pounds in financial backing to Robinson.

“He’s a wake-up call for politicians,” said Roy. “He speaks for the people. The authorities are terrified of him; that’s why they’ve blocked his every move.”

But around 200 locals were gathered in English Street to oppose Robinson.

Among them was former trade union official Peter Doyle, who said the Robinson supporters in the city had been imported and were mostly not local.

“Everything he says is about hate,” said Mr Doyle.

“About hating ethnic minorities; hating Muslims.”

Labour Carlisle city councillor Ruth Alcroft, who aims to become Carlisle’s next MP, said: “We’re pretty welcoming in Carlisle.

“But with anybody who stands on a platform of hate we need to challenge those views.”

She said local politicians from all sides of the political spectrum had turned out to oppose Robinson. “We want to be inclusive,” she added.

Alan McGuckin, another Carlisle city councillor, said Robinson’s views were “vile,” adding: “There’s no room in Carlisle for racists and fascists.”

Cumbria police defended their policing of the event.

Superintendent Mark Pannone said: “A visible policing presence was deployed into Carlisle city centre today due to Tommy Robinson’s visit to the city as part of his election campaign.

“Our priority was the safety of all members of the public. Officers were there throughout the day and evening to ensure public safety and prevent any incidence of crime or disorder whilst campaigning was conducted.”

There were no reports of violence or disorder.