At first, the dozen white men mingling with 300 or so Sikh demonstrators besieging Luton police station went largely unnoticed.
They stood on the fringes, content to observe. But as the night wore on and the intensity of the protest increased, the white men grew more raucous and aggressive.
What was remarkable about their presence was that they were members of the far-Right English Defence League.
They had turned up to express support for their Sikh ‘brothers’ who were angry at the way detectives had handled an allegation that a young Sikh woman had been sexually assaulted by a Muslim man.
The EDL makes no secret that it loathes Islamism, but stresses that, unlike the British National Party, it embraces all other creeds.
That said, when EDL supporters have taken to the streets in the past they have done so with St George’s flags and banners bearing inflammatory slogans.
In Luton all 12 men, including EDL leader Tommy Robinson and his right-hand man Kevin Carroll, wore a rumal, the traditional Sikh headscarf.
That night – May 29 – racial tensions had risen in the multicultural town and this time it was Luton’s usually equable Sikh community that was angry.
Bringing traffic to a standstill, female protesters lay down in the dual-carriageway that splits the town centre. Others demanded answers from individual officers.
While there was much anger and plenty of noise, there was no violence, and by midnight it was all over. Yet that night a curious alliance was formed.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has established that the leadership of the EDL has aligned itself with groups of radical Sikhs from Luton, the West Midlands and other parts of the country, who are furious that young women in their communities are, as they see it, being sexually exploited and groomed by British-Pakistani Muslims.
Two days after the protest, Sikhs and EDL members held a secret meeting in Luton to discuss a joint response to the problem. Both sides are said to have favoured acts of vigilantism.
There has been unofficial contact between Sikhs and the EDL for some time, and the links were cemented at the protest.
Asked about the secret meeting, Mr Robinson said: ‘Who told you about that? We can’t comment on exactly what we will do with the Sikhs but we will do whatever we can to work together, raise awareness and combat the problem.’
When pressed about plans to carry out vigilante acts, Mr Robinson – who earlier this year was the focus of a Channel 4 documentary called Proud And Prejudiced – said:
‘When the police fail to protect the community, when they fail to protect daughters, we have to protect them.
‘We live in a community where Muslim paedophile gangs are operating without police pressure. If a Sikh girl is attacked in Luton that is my problem because she is a member of my community.
‘I class everyone in my community as everyone who is non-Islamic.’
The EDL has held many demonstrations across the country since it was formed in Luton in March 2009 after Muslim radicals disrupted a homecoming parade by the Royal Anglian Regiment. It has become the most significant far-Right street movement in Britain since the National Front in the Seventies.
Nick Lowles, director of the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate, said: ‘We are aware there has been contact between the EDL and a small group of radical Sikhs. But there is nothing to be gained by anyone in the Sikh community linking up with the racist EDL.
‘We need to tackle the issue of child exploitation, but it needs to be a community-wide response.’
While the EDL supporters in Luton were welcomed by some, the town’s Sikh elders viewed their presence at the protest as opportunism.
They accuse EDL leaders of trying to hijack the protest and exploiting difficulties between their community and the town’s large Pakistani Muslim population.
The issue of grooming is at the heart of that discord.
The group of radical Sikhs says it receives about three calls a week from Sikh parents fearing their children are being targeted.
There have been few prosecutions, however, largely because the issue touches upon notions of honour and shame.
Jasvinder Singh Nagra, of the Luton Gurdwara temple, said: ‘Young girls of school and college age are being targeted by men from the Pakistani community.
They are duping them into believing they are in love and it all comes to grief because they are treated as sex toys.
‘A small proportion of the Pakistani community feel it is fair game to go for Sikh and Hindu girls.
‘In the past, the Pakistani community have not taken this seriously and neither have the police. They have not looked into the role played by coercion or blackmail.
‘We know that at colleges and universities you have young Muslim men wearing the kara [a bangle worn by Sikhs] to pretend they are part of the community, or they change their names to pretend to be Sikh and our girls fall for it.
‘Before they know it they are with this man and then compromising photographs will be taken of her. She will be threatened with having these shown to her family and the fear of losing honour is a very powerful tool to make her do what the man wants.’
But Mr Nagra said protest organisers did not share EDL’s values. ‘The arrival of the EDL was a total surprise to me,’ he added.
‘They were there to try to make an alliance over what they felt was a common issue. It caused a great deal of anxiety because we wanted, above all, for the protest to be peaceful.
‘The EDL leaders were showing off to our young people by being very aggressive in the way they spoke to the police, pretending to be doing it out of solidarity.
‘I would advise our young people not to be lured down the EDL route of taking the law into our own hands and vigilante activity.’
In response, the day after the protest, some 40 leaders from the Sikh and Muslim communities met at the Gurdwara to discuss their differences in a two-hour meeting.
Mr Nagra said: ‘I was delighted that so many people from the Pakistani community came.’
Zafar Khan, of the Luton Council of Faiths, who chaired the meeting, said: ‘The idea that there is an orchestrated campaign by young Muslim men to target young Sikh women is totally insulting and wrong. This is the language of the EDL.’
He added: ‘The threat of the EDL is very great in Luton. We have a lot of experience in dealing with them and that is why we reacted so promptly.
‘Now we will meet every couple of months to talk about inter- community issues.’
A Bedfordshire Police spokesman urged anyone with evidence of grooming of people ‘from any faith or group’ to come forward, but added that there was nothing to indicate that ‘systematic’ grooming of Sikh girls was taking place in Luton.