Council chiefs back police calls for an end to protests in South Yorkshire

An EDL protest in Rotherham last year
An EDL protest in Rotherham last year

Rotherham Council chiefs have backed police calls for an end to protests which have so far cost £4 million to police.

This morning South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable David Crompton announced that he is to look to the law for a way of ending far-right protests.

He said funds and resources to protect victims of crime are being absorbed by the constant demand to police protests.

South Yorkshire businesses are also concerned about the impact of repeated protests, particularly in Rotherham, where there have been 14.

There have been 20 protests in South Yorkshire over recent years, with the majority in Rotherham organised by far-right groups over the child sexual exploitation scandal which has rocked the town.

A report suggested that 1,400 children in Rotherham had been abused by men of largely Pakistani heritage over a 16 year period while those in authority turned a blind eye.

Groups including the English Defence League and Britain First have marched through the town in protest, with counter demonstrations, often involving Unite Against Fascism, generally held on the same days.

For most protests police chiefs have been forced to draft in extra police officers to boost numbers on the streets, including reinforcements from neighbouring forces.

This afternoon council chiefs gave their backing to efforts to try to stop further protests.

Councillor Chris Read, Leader of Rotherham Council, said: “We acknowledge and respect that people – the vast majority of them from outside of Rotherham - have used their right to protest, and they’ve done so repeatedly. However, the protests have frightened people away from our town centre, they’ve damaged our local economy, and they haven’t added anything to the very serious work that’s being done to restore the council, tackle child sexual exploitation and to secure justice for those victims who have been let down.

“For Rotherham to recover we need the space to keep making that progress, not people being discouraged from being part of the community, from shopping in our town centre, from working and from going about their usual daily business. We’ve asked for the protests to cease in the interests of our town, but the organisers have refused. That is why we are backing the new legal avenues being explored by the police.”

Government appointed commissioner Mary Ney, working to try to turn Rotherham Council around in the wake of the child sexual exploitation scandal, said: “We very much welcome the Chief Constable’s announcement that he is reviewing what legal powers can be deployed to tackle the demonstrations that have been causing such disruption to our town and to our residents over a prolonged period of time.

“We are concerned that the current legislative framework falls short of what we need to deal with the very specific situation we are facing here in Rotherham. The council will continue to support the police in any way we can to tackle this.

“Whilst we respect people’s right to peaceful protest, this needs to be balanced against the significant local impact this is having in Rotherham. We have had numerous marches on the same issue, largely from groups outside the region, over a prolonged period of time.

“A huge amount of effort is going into making the vulnerable safe, and ensuring that those responsible for these terrible crimes are brought to justice.

“The Secretary of State has appointed Commissioners to take Rotherham forward, because of the failings of the past. These continued marches serve no purpose, are impacting on our progress, and are putting at risk some of the good work that has been done on regenerating the town.

“Our local communities and businesses have been very tolerant, and more than anyone have the right to be angry about the failings of the past.

“They themselves are now saying that enough is enough. We want to help re-build Rotherham’s reputation, bring communities together, and build on the strengths of the town.

“Rotherham needs to move on, and we can see that this is starting to happen. Further protests like this can only hold us back.”

Chief Constable Crompton said: “Since October 2012 we have policed 20 protests in South Yorkshire, 14 of which have focused on Rotherham.

“Whilst we respect all individual’s right to protest we must balance this against local people’s right to enjoy their town centre, the businesses’ right to trade and the need to fund wider policing.

“I’m now seeking specialist legal advice to explore all our options around these protests. We are facing a situation the legislation what not designed to address.

“Many of these protests focus on a call for police to do more to tackle child sexual exploitation but their constant desire to protest is not helping us to achieve this.

“Furthermore, we have 151 live investigations underway into child sexual exploitation, many of which are working their way through the criminal justice system. Eight people from Rotherham were at Sheffield Crown Court earlier this week.

“I understand the concerns raised by many of the protestors which is why I commissioned the National Crime Agency to investigate past abuse and why we have referred allegations against police officers to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

“We’ve also injected extra funds into our public protection units which, in the last 12 months, has led to 54 people being charged for child sexual exploitation related offences.

“The £4 million does not include the subsequent criminal investigations which often follow.

“This weekend’s protest resulted in disorder on Wellgate, which is now being investigated by nine full time officers in a bid to identify and bring to justice those responsible.”

“I have to ask the question of protestors what it is they are calling for, and whether stripping police resources from South Yorkshire will help achieve it.”

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, added: “No one wants to interfere with the right to demonstrate, but when people who mainly come from outside South Yorkshire continue to come here it looks increasingly cynical and hypocritical on their part.

“This is one part of the country where child sexual exploitation is well understood and is being tackled.

“The police have acknowledged past mistakes, have learnt from them and are determined to do the right thing by those who were previously let down.

“They are moving now to bring perpetrators to justice.

“Every protest diverts funds which could be better used not least in supporting more work in protecting vulnerable people.

“I have never yet had a victim or survivor of child sexual exploitation or their families ask for this kind of outside intervention. On the contrary, those who I meet on the panel of survivors and their families are working with the police and do not welcome these distractions.”