Pride ‘right of way’ row was bid to sabotage Big Weekend, claims Manchester councillor as protester arrested

Pride protesters concocted an attempt to exercise their ‘right of way’ through the Gay Village in a bid to disrupt the Big Weekend celebrations, according to a Manchester councillor.

His statements come after a 25-year-old was arrested on Saturday night at the junction of Sackville St and Whitworth Street after trying to exercise what he believed was his ‘right of way’. He was released without charge the following morning.

Last week MM reported how members of the LGBT community had expressed concern that a council application, if granted, would revoke the general public’s right of way.

Councillor Kevin Peel said: “It is clear that this isn’t an argument about money or access, it is simply the latest in a long line of attempts to disrupt Pride by a small and unrepresentative group of protesters who should put their time and energy into working constructively to ensure Pride is as successful as possible and raises even more vital money for local LGBT organisations.

“Pride means different things to different people. For me it is a reminder of how far we have come and a chance to raise awareness about what we have left to do.

“For some it is a protest, for others a party. Everyone should be allowed to celebrate Pride in their own way as long as they are respectful of others.

“Unfortunately a small minority of protesters seem to want to disrupt the festivities and put at risk the vital money raised by Manchester Pride for fantastic LGBT causes here in Greater Manchester.”

Confusion over the issue of right of way caused disruption at the gates, where some protesters were allowed into the site as others were turned away.

Lankyskin Smith, who claims to have been let into the festival on ‘right of way’ grounds without a pass, said: “I’ve walked in a couple of times with no grief, but that was luck, coupled with confidence.

“But last night we got a police escort in, to ensure our safety and were then left alone. I’ve witnessed others denied entry, though I didn’t intervene because I didn’t feel their intentions were genuine…”

Pride organisers had released a statement on Friday that said a traffic order was granted enabling access only to those with a wristband accreditation or resident and visitor pass.

Chief Executive of Pride Mark Fletcher said at the time: “We can verify that consent for a traffic order was granted – just as in previous years when the order has been in place – and it enables access to the event for those with a wrist band, accreditation or resident and visitor pass.

“This enables us to manage the event properly and comply with health and safety guidance for large events.”

However, it was reported on the protest group’s Facebook page that members of the group were given access to the site, although they were restricted from entering a majority of the bars and the main stage.

Group co-founder of Facts About Manchester Pride (FAMP) Group Geoff Stafford said: “It’s about being able to walk down the public streets and visit certain businesses that some of us enjoy all year round, if they are willing.

“Some of them don’t support the current Pride set up. And it’s about basic rights and freedoms.”

Yet Manchester City Council’s City Centre spokesman Pat Karney branded FAMP’s antics as a ‘pointless’ publicity stunt, whose sole purpose was to disrupt the celebrations.

“I have offered to facilitate a meeting between the protestors and the Pride board, and I think the protestors should drop this pointless publicity stunt to ensure that Pride continues to be a hugely successful event,” he said in a statement ahead of the weekend.

Thousands gathered to celebrate Pride over the weekend, and to watch acts such as Anastacia, Pixie Lott and Misha B.

“There were dozens of free and low cost events as part of the Pride Fringe and of course the Parade is also free to enjoy by all,” Councillor Peel said.

“Those who cannot afford a full cost ticket to the Big Weekend could also have applied for a £5 ticket from Pride’s new hardship fund.”

Police have confirmed that only eight arrests were made over the four days.

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