SOUTH Yorkshire’s Chief Constable has defended the number of officers policing the Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference – insisting he wants Sheffield left in the same condition after the event as it is found before.
Med Hughes, who will oversee policing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, said he is expecting hundreds of political party delegates and thousands of protesters and officers must be ready for all eventualities.
He said mass political protests last year – including the tuition fees riot at Tory Party HQ in London – demonstrated the need for vigilance.
The Chief Constable expects the policing bill for the event to be around £1.5 million.
He will be drafting in officers from neighbouring forces. This will ensure he has enough staff to respond to the emergencies his force tackles on an average weekend.
He said: “From the information available to me delegate numbers will be in their hundreds and protesters in their thousands, so we hope for the best, plan for the worst, and expect something in between.
“We intend to have sufficient officers on duty to ensure both the conference and protests can take place safely.
“The public will see large numbers of police officers at times, and I am conscious people will think we have wasted time and money if the protesters don’t turn up.
“But the recent scenes in London, together with some of the protests directed at the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, mean I really can’t take a chance on under-policing this event.”
He said: “Every event is different and there are a large number of unknown factors around this conference – the first the Lib Dems have held since being in the coalition.
“The delegates will probably find the level of security surrounding them unusual.
“We have to balance the right of the political party to hold its meeting with the right of those who wish to protest.
“I personally am extremely concerned the people of Sheffield will be able to go about their business as usual without any harassment.”
Mr Hughes admitted it would be cheaper to use only its own officers for the event, but said he did not want to leave the rest of South Yorkshire without enough cover. Forces across the North have agreed to second officers, but South Yorkshire Police has to pay for them.
He said: “Democracy costs money. My job is to make sure everybody has a safe conference and the city looks as good after as it did before.”
He added the force was “looking forward” to helping to host a major political conference in South Yorkshire.
He said: “We have excellent experience, from the GB conference in 2005, of hosting such events and our style of policing was warmly received by protest leaders.”