UP to 2,000 demonstrators gathered on Blackpool Promenade today to protest over the police handling of missing teenager Charlene Downes.
Members of controversial far right group the English Defence League (EDL) met in the resort in a demonstration which saw hundreds of officers drafted in from around the north west to ensure violence did not spill over.
Demonstrators from around the UK were bussed into the resort and kept behind 10 feet high fences which kept them within the confines of the Sun Inn and Yates’ pubs in South Shore, before marching along the Promenade to south headland where Charlene’s family joined EDL chiefs to give speeches which were met with wild cheers by those who gathered for the event.
Police made eight arrests mostly for being drunk and disorderly, two for public order offences and one for possession of an offensive weapon.
The organisers of the march said the group was protesting over the lack of justice for missing Charlene and a one-minute silence was held in her memory.
She was last seen in November 2003 when she waved goodbye to her mum in the town centre before going off to meet friends.
Her disappearance sparked the biggest missing person’s hunt in Lancashire’s history and two takeaway owners, Jordanian Iyad Albatikkhi and Mohammed Reveshi, were eventually arrested and charged with murdering the teenager and disposing of her body.
They were later acquitted of all charges.
EDL speaker Tony Curtis told the throngs: “My message to the authorities who let Charlene’s family down is we won’t forget. We said we’d be back and, by God, we’re back today.
“Charlene was tragically taken from us and no other country in the world would allow these crimes to go unpunished.
And after making an impassioned speech, Charlene’s mum Karen called for more action into the case of her missing daughter.
She said: “I hope there’s now enough pressure on the police to open a new investigation.”
Chief Supt Richard Debicki, commander of Western Division, said: “We’re pleased the protest has passed off peacefully and we’re satisfied we were able to give both sides the right to demonstrate and to ensure it was business as usual for the resort.”
“Many officers will now remain in the resort over the Bank Holiday weekend to help reassure local businesses and communities.”
* More reports and pictures in a late edition of Saturday’s Gazette. *