Police and council bosses are to apply to the Government to have protest marches by extremist groups in Rotherham outlawed.
Rotherham Council’s commissioners have written to Home Secretary Theresa May advising her they are planning to make a joint submission with South Yorkshire Police asking to be allowed the special powers.
They want to be granted powers under the Public Order Act that would allow for the banning of public marches of an initial period of up to three months.
It follows around £2m being spent on policing marches and protests in Rotherham from groups including the English Defence League, Britain First and the Yorkshire Infidels, as well as counter-demonstrations from organisations such as Unite Against Fascism and British Muslim Youth.
The most expensive and high-profile operations followed the publication of the Jay report in August, which revealed South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council had failed at least 1,400 victims of child sexual exploitation over a 16-year-period, with many of the main offenders being men of Pakistani origin.
A protest by the EDL and other right-wing groups in the town on September 13 ran up a policing bill of more than £1m, as over 1,000 officers from across the country were sent to Rotherham.
A further £250,000 was also spent on an operation monitoring a group of EDL protesters who set up camp outside Rotherham police station between August 29 and September 13 to demand the resignation of police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright, who had been responsible for children’s services at Rotherham Council between 2005 and 2010.
In March, members of the extreme right-wing group the South East Alliance were prevented from entering Rotherham, with arrests made under breach of the peace powers. This operation cost more than £150,000.
The £1.8m bill between 2013 and 2015 does not include Saturday’s demonstration by the South East Alliance group, who were joined by members of the EDL and the National Front.
In her letter to the Home Secretary, Commissioner Mary Ney said while it is hoped the costs of policing the marches will be met through a Home Office grant, the public money that has gone on dealing with the demonstrations could be ‘better spent’.
She said: “Over an extended period, the town has been subject to a significant number of events by right-wing groups, and counter demonstrations by left wing groups. This has, and continues to, consume a vast amount of police resource, both within and outside South Yorkshire, at significant cost to the public purse.
“However, more significant is the damage to the reputation of the town, and the impact that this has had on the town centre in particular, which has been the focus of these events.
“Due to their regularity there is a real perception amongst people using the town that it is not safe, and that there are protests every Saturday.
“Footfall is significantly down, and a number of retailers are facing closure. Further marches and demonstrations can only worsen this position.
“The town needs to move on and further events will be damaging both to community cohesion, and the ability of the town to recover.”
Commissioner Ney said conditions to control where marches go or how long they last do ‘not deal with the cumulative impact that these events have on the community, or the town centre businesses’.
She added: “Whilst we realise that people have a democratic right to assemble and protest under the European conventions, that freedom has been exercised on numerous occasions, by many different groups, all protesting about the same issue.
“That voice has been heard, and all groups have had the opportunity to protest in Rotherham town centre many times.”
She said it is ‘considered legitimate to interfere with that right’ on the grounds that it will prevent serious disorder, protect the rights of traders and the public to go about their business and ‘enable the town to move on following the publication of the Jay and Casey reports’.
A spokeswoman for South Yorkshire Police said: “We respect the right to peaceful protest but this must be balanced against the rights of the wider community to go about their daily lives.
“We welcome Commissioner Ney’s letter to the Home Office highlighting the difficult position Rotherham is facing and the desire of all agencies to move forward and rebuild the reputation of the town.”