DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg and former Home Secretary David Blunkett today joined police to appeal for calm as thousands of protesters descend on Sheffield for the Lib Dem Spring Conference.
Organisers insist today’s planned demonstration against Government cuts, and a protest march of up to 10,000 people tomorrow, will be peaceful events with families and children present, and promise there will be none of the violence which marred student protests in London.
But Jake Smith, of Sheffield Right to Work campaign, warned: “I don’t think protesters breaking a window or occupying buildings is violence. The cuts are going to kill people - that’s violence.”
South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Med Hughes has signed orders limiting where gatherings can take place, and graffiti has appeared on buildings in Sheffield promoting the ‘Rage Against The Lib Dems’ march from Devonshire Green to the City Hall tomorrow.
One ‘Rage’ logo has been sprayed onto hoardings on Oxford Street, Netherthorpe, and another has appeared on the side of Sheffield University’s Dainton Building near Brook Hill roundabout.
Today, in a direct appeal to protesters, Deputy PM and Sheffield Hallam MP Mr Clegg said: “The conference is a great opportunity to showcase Sheffield. I think it would be a real insult to what Sheffield stands for if demonstrators marr that with violence.”
He added: “We may disagree on certain areas of Government policy, but I agree with protesters exercising their democratic right.
“I don’t want the demonstrators or the peace and tranquillity of Sheffield to be disrupted by what is always a small minority of troublemakers.
“They do not come because they care about issues, but because they want to get into some sort of ruck.”
Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough Labour MP David Blunkett, former Home Secretary, said: “Anyone who indulges in violent or obscene behaviour is not only playing into the hands of the very people they oppose, but discrediting the just cause of opposition.”
And Martin Mayer, chairman of Sheffield Anti Cuts Alliance, added: “We want loud, noisy, exuberant, but peaceful protests with families and children.”
Sheffield Magistrates’ Court has prepared to run extra court sessions tomorrow in case of arrests at the protests.
Insp Bob Pitt, chairman of South Yorkshire’s Police Federation, which represents rank and file bobbies, urged protesters: “Please come with an intention to demonstrate peacefully. I want the people of Sheffield to show they can demonstrate with dignity. There is no need for violent disorder.”
South Yorkshire Police chief Med Hughes has signed four orders under the Public Order Act.
He has banned protesters from assembling in the Peace Gardens at any time, and used two orders to limit to 100 the number of protesters outside the St Paul’s Hotel or near the Ha Ha Bar at Millennium Square.
A fourth order bans processions from West Street.