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Far right activists investigated after photo outside Islamic prayer centre

Britain First leader Paul Golding, centre, with two supporters outside a "big new mosque" in Newtownards, which is actually Ards Arts Centre
John Monaghan

A PHOTOGRAPH of far right activists protesting outside an Islamic prayer centre in Co Down has become the subject of a police investigation into alleged hate crime.

A member of the public contacted the PSNI about the photos, taken in Conway Square in Newtownards, which show northern activists of the 'Britain First' group alongside leader Paul Golding.

The Facebook post states: "Here they are in Newtownards outside the new big mosque in the town. They were outside for less than five minutes when they were confronted by a group of young male Muslims."

Muslims in the town, where there is no mosque, instead worship in the Bangladesh Islamic Community Centre in Greenwell Street.

In a second photograph the three men are shown posing with a Northern Ireland flag close to the prayer centre.

The posting led to some menacing comments on social media, with one man stating that it was "astounding how this building hasn’t been torched yet."

Abdul Robb, from the Bangladesh Islamic Community Centre in the town, said those responsible for the photos were "only doing it for publicity" and added there were no plans to build a mosque in Newtownards.

He said: "We are very friendly with the local people. They are only doing it for publicity."

Newtownards DUP councillor Naomi Armstrong-Cotter said there were "no issues" about the presence of the prayer centre.

She said: "There were concerns raised at the time that it would become a hub, but that has not been the case. Groups from across the area have made an effort to integrate with them and have had cooking lessons from the Bangladeshis."

“They keep themselves to themselves. There is no proselytising going on here. Local people know it is here and haven’t had any issue."

The DUP councillor added: "This doesn’t fit with Newtownards. It is just about people getting on with their normal lives and that is the way it should be."

Britain First campaigns against the building of new mosques, and last year praised First Minister Peter Robinson for an interview in The Irish News in which he said he "wouldn’t trust" Muslims involved in violence or those who adhered to Sharia law.

In November 2014, in a statement on its website, the group said it was forming its "first active unit in Northern Ireland."

Loyalist campaigner Jim Dowson, who received a suspended sentence in April for participating in unlawful processions linked to the Union flag protests, was previously a leading figure in the group.

Britain First did not respond to a request for comment.

Police said they were investigating an allegation of a hate incident, and asked a witness who originally contacted them to get back in touch.

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