Repeated demonstrations by far-right groups in Rotherham are turning the town centre into a ‘no-go zone’ on protest days, the council leader warns.
Chris Read has written to Home Secretary Theresa May to express his ‘serious concerns’ about the continued impact on the town of the protests, which focus on the child sexual exploitation scandal.
It comes as seven people were arrested and 43 issued with dispersal orders banning them from the centre of Rotherham for 24 hours following a protest by the English Defence League and a counter-demonstration by Unite Against Fascism on Saturday.
More than 400 police officers from 15 forces were sent to Rotherham on Saturday following serious disorder after a Britain First march in the town in September.
In a letter sent to the Home Secretary prior to Saturday’s demonstrations, Coun Read said there had been 14 previous protests in Rotherham since October 2012 – mainly arranged by far-right groups and accompanied by corresponding counter-demonstrations by other groups.
He said: “The marches have caused a great deal of disruption to our communities, businesses and members of the public, who as a result have been deterred from visiting the town centre.
“These marches have posed a real risk in defining, quite unfairly, a ‘no-go’ zone for our town centre, especially given that they have mostly taken place on the busiest weekend shopping and activity days.
“This has had a severe impact on trade and confidence in the town centre and has affected profoundly many small businesses.”
Coun Read said the demonstrations are also causing racial tension, with the trouble after the Britain First march in September following the racist murder of Muslim pensioner Mushin Ahmed in August.
“Our partners and colleagues in the faith and community sector, as well as youth groups, have also told us about the rise in tensions and hate incidents in the run-up to and aftermath of these protests, in addition to the actual days of the events,” he said.
“Intelligence suggests tensions also rise in schools and colleges.”
He said around 1,700 people have now signed the council-led ‘Enough is Enough’ petition calling for extra policing powers to curb extremist marches in the town.
Coun Read has asked for a meeting with Theresa May to discuss what further action could be taken.
He said: “I firmly believe it is both necessary and proportionate to allow the town a period of time to focus on recovery for the benefit of the people and businesses.”