New panel to advise on handling extremist marches after violent clashes in Rotherham

The Britain First protesters in Rotherham last September
The Britain First protesters in Rotherham last September
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A new independent panel has been set up to advise police on dealing with extremist marches in South Yorkshire in the wake of serious disorder after a Britain First march in Rotherham.

The new panel is being established after a review into the trouble in September, which found police had failed to anticipate a ‘change in mood’ in the town’s Muslim community following a racist murder the month before the march.

The new panel, which includes members of the police’s Independent Ethics Panel and Independent Minority Communities Advisory Panel, will provide advice on handling future demonstrations and helped plan for the English Defence League demonstration in Rotherham on Saturday, March 26.

Members include Andrew Lockley, chairman of the Independent Ethics Panel, who was also the co-author of the review into policing tactics on September 5 last year.

The protests occurred shortly after the murder of 81-year-old Muslim pensioner Mushin Ahmed.

Nineteen men have been charged with violent offences – with one pleading guilty – after clashes between rival groups in Rotherham centre.

The report said far-right groups have attempted to ‘portray all Muslims as guilty of the perceived crimes of a small section of that community’ in the wake of the child sexual exploitation scandal.

It said prior to Mr Ahmed’s murder in August 2015, local people had ‘held back’ from counter-demonstrations.

It said: “There does appear to have been a failure to appreciate the scale of the change in mood of the local Muslim community in advance of September 5.

“Police did not appear to anticipate until late on that the numbers who would turn out to oppose Britain First would be greater than on previous occasions of far-right marches and from a much wider cross-section of the community.”

On the new panel will be Abdul Khayum, chairman of the Minority Communities Panel, Sahir Ali and Renata Atkins, both members of the Minority Communities Panel and Michael Lewis and Linda Christon, who are Independent Ethics Panel members.

The Panel will convene to provide advice to South Yorkshire Police when a group indicates it will be protesting on any issue within South Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said: “For some time now there have been a number of protestors travelling regularly to Rotherham to protest against the Force’s handling of child sexual exploitation matters.

“In the future we don’t know what issues might be the subject of protests or where they might be in the county. This new panel with its diverse membership should be able to assist and advise when necessary.”

He added: “In looking at the recommendations of Andrew Lockley’s report I felt that Andrew would be the best person to chair this new Panel, supported by colleagues from my existing advisory panels.

“The members that have been appointed represent a cross-section of our communities from across South Yorkshire and I expect them to be able to bring knowledge and expertise to make recommendations regardless of the objective of the planned protests.”