A HUGE policing operation was staged in York this afternoon as anti-refugee protesters and their opponents gathered behind barriers in a city centre square and exchanged chants and insults.

At least 40 officers stood in position in and around St Helen's Square, and two rows of barriers were positioned strategically across the square, in a bid to keep the two groups apart and ensure people voiced their opinions without resorting to violence.

On one side of the barriers was Anne-Marie Waters, who sought to address dozens of supporters from organisations including For Britain and Patriotic Alternative.

But she was drowned out by many scores of counter-protesters on the other side of the barriers as they repeatedly chanted: "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here."

The counter protesters, organised by York Stand Up To Racism, included York Central MP Rachael Maskell, who led the chanting at one stage.

They carried placards such as 'All refugees welcome, oppose offshore detention', and 'Defend Roma rights, oppose the Police Bill.'

Placards held by the other protesters included one referring to 'white power' and to the murdered soldier Lee Rigby.

Later the counter protesters chanted "Nazi scum, off our streets," to a furious reaction from some of the protesters, who shouted and swore in response, branded the counter-protesters scum and traitors, and made lewd gestures.

Ms Maskell later tweeted: "Love triumphed over hate in York today as 100s turned out to see off a very small number of the far right. York, stood proud as a City of Sanctuary and Human Rights City. #RefugeesWelcome."

North Yorkshire Police said yesterday it was planning a 'heightened police presence' after being notified about the demonstration and people visiting York should feel reassured by this.

It said:"Everyone has the right to voice their opinion. Peaceful protest is key part of UK democracy and we will manage the protest in line with our legal responsibilities.

"We would ask that both residents and demonstrators respect these rights and each other’s opinions, so that the event can take place in a peaceful manner without any incident."