Rotherham being ‘blighted’ by repeated demonstrations, says commissioner

EDL march and rally in Rotherham town centre.

EDL march and rally in Rotherham town centre.

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Frequent marches, demonstrations and protests about the Rotherham grooming scandal are having an ‘unacceptable impact’ on people in the town, a council commissioner has warned.

Commissioner Mary Ney said the town is being ‘blighted’ by the repeated protests which are intimidating local residents.

Members of the EDL held a protest outside a Rotherham police station to demand Shaun Wright's resignation. Pic: Alex Roebuck

Members of the EDL held a protest outside a Rotherham police station to demand Shaun Wright's resignation. Pic: Alex Roebuck

She has made the comments after writing to Home Secretary Theresa May advising her the council and police will soon be seeking special powers to ban marches from taking place.

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Commissioner Ney said: “In recent months our town has been blighted by a number of protests which have a major impact on the town.

Britain First March

Britain First March

“These demonstrations have intimidated local people, damaged the local economy and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to safely police.

“I have written to the Home Secretary as we would welcome the opportunity to discuss how we can respond to these ongoing issues and ensure that the town has a period of calm in which to move forward.

“Whilst we respect everyone’s right to peaceful free speech, the frequency and nature of these marches is having an unacceptable impact on our residents and businesses.

“Ultimately, we are looking for a route to prohibit further such gatherings in Rotherham.”

Members of the EDL marched through Rotherham on Saturday afternoon.

Members of the EDL marched through Rotherham on Saturday afternoon.

South Yorkshire Police has said the money and time spent on policing such protests is diverting officers from other work.

A spokeswoman said: “There have been a large number of demonstrations in Rotherham during the last year, which have had a significant impact on the community and local businesses.

“They have also had a considerable impact on the force’s resources both financially and in terms of the number of officers required to ensure these events are facilitated safely.

“Officers from South Yorkshire and other forces across the country are utilised during large-scale demonstrations, preventing them from doing important policing work in our communities.

Police prevented South East Alliance protesters gathering in Rotherham in March

Police prevented South East Alliance protesters gathering in Rotherham in March

“The growing cost of these demonstrations also needs to be considered against the backdrop of continued budgetary constraints.

“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.

“We continue to work with the Commissioners to rebuild public confidence and trust in both South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Borough Council.”

But the idea of banning marches taking place altogether has been met with caution by police commissioner Alan Billings.

Dr Billings said while such groups are ‘not welcome’ in South Yorkshire, it will also cost money to prevent planned demonstrations taking place.

It follows a recent operation to prevent a gathering by the South East Alliance in Rotherham in March costing more than £150,000.

He said: “Every penny spent on policing demonstrations is money that could be better spent on pursuing the perpetrators of crimes and bringing them to justice.

“While everyone has a right to demonstrate, the most powerful way to see off these particular demonstrators, who mainly come from elsewhere, is for the people of South Yorkshire to make it clear that they are not welcome, and the simplest way of reducing police costs is for them to stay away.

“One way of undermining these groups is not to give them advance publicity when they are planning to demonstrate and for the police to keep them mainly away from shopping areas. These are tactics the police have used very successfully recently.

“The police, the local authority and all other partners must work together to bring Rotherham to a better place.

“The Conservative election manifesto committed the new government to introduce new banning orders from ‘extremist groups’. We shall watch with interest to see whether this is helpful for South Yorkshire.

“I would be cautious about asking the police to apply to ban demonstrations for three months since this would ban all demonstrations within that period and would have to be policed, for which there would be a cost.”

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