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Far-right rally will go ahead in Ballymena despite arrest of party leader

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Britain First leader Paul Golding on an earlier visit to Ballymena

Britain First leader Paul Golding on an earlier visit to Ballymena

Britain First leader Paul Golding on an earlier visit to Ballymena

Britain First is still planning to hold a rally in Ballymena despite the arrest of the group's leader Paul Golding, who was last night charged with stirring up hatred.

Concerns among local traders are growing over the impending public protest, which they fear could have a catastrophic effect on retail.

An increased police presence is expected in the Co Antrim town over the weekend, with the PSNI confirming that officers are being deployed "to provide reassurance to traders and wider community".

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, DUP councillor and former businesswoman Audrey Wales called for calm and urged residents to refrain from engaging in any activity that will affect the town's livelihood.

"Retailers are already struggling in the current economic downturn and I would ask everyone to refrain from organising events that will make people stay away from Ballymena," Ms Wales said.

"Traders from the town, who we rely on to employ local people, really need our support so I'm urging people to be tolerant and keep the peace, stay calm and respect one and other."

She added: "I don't know who invited Britain First into Ballymena but this will only exacerbate the situation and will not achieve anything in the run-up to Christmas, when retailers really need a trade boost."

Britian First claims it has distributed more than 5,000 leaflets ahead of tomorrow's event, which is scheduled to take place at 3pm in Harryville.

Posters advertising the controversial protest claim Britain First is "leading the campaign against this huge wave of immigration" and is "demanding an immediate halt" in Ballymena.

It comes amid simmering tensions over a surge of Roma migrants moving into Ballymena.

Mr Golding was last night charged with three counts of publishing written material intended to stir up hatred and one count of using threatening, abusive, insulting words or behaviour.

He is due to appear at Ballymena Magistrates Court on November 15.

Britain First's website, however, said Saturday's rally in the town "will proceed as planned". It added: "A team of activists is already there preparing for the event, and we have local speakers ready to participate."

Sources said 400 supporters went to hear the Britain First leader address a similar rally a fortnight ago.

The PSNI told this newspaper it is "working with all interested parties to find long-term solutions to ease community tensions".

"We will have officers in the town over the weekend to provide reassurance to the traders and wider community," Superintendent Darrin Jones said.

"Police are one of several partners in the multi-agency forum with a shared goal of ensuring residents, traders and visitors feel safe and secure.

"The increase in police patrols over the last number of weeks has resulted in a decrease in crime and an increase in clearance rates which is to be welcomed."

Belfast Telegraph