South Yorkshire Police hit out at Rotherham protests
South Yorkshire Police have claimed demonstrations against failures to adequately investigate child abuse are costing the force too much money.
The force has policed 20 protests since 2012, including 14 in Rotherham where a report found 1,400 girls were sexually exploited from 1997-2013.
The chief constable and the crime commissioner (PCC) dubbed the protests "unhelpful" and say they should stop.
But one protest group said they had a right to highlight police "failings".
The force, which was heavily criticised in Professor Alexis Jay's report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, said it had cost more than £4m since 2012 to police demonstrations.
'Police still failing'
On Saturday seven people were arrested following a protest in Rotherham organised by Britain First and attended by an estimated 280 people. A further 250 people took part in a Unite Against Fascism (UAF) counter-demonstration.
Chief Constable David Crompton, who said he was taking legal advice about the protests, said the figure of £4m did not include the costs of subsequent criminal investigations.
He said: "Whilst we respect all individuals' right to protest we must balance this against local people's right to enjoy their town centre, the businesses' right to trade and the need to fund wider policing.
"Many of these protests focus on a call for police to do more to tackle child sexual exploitation but their constant desire to protest is not helping us to achieve this.
"I have to ask the question of protesters what it is they are calling for, and whether stripping police resources from South Yorkshire will help achieve it."
Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of Britain First, said: "South Yorkshire Police's call to end demonstrations for monetary reasons is indicative of where their priorities have lain over the last 16 years - not with the children of Rotherham.
"Recent reports state that South Yorkshire Police are still failing the children of Rotherham as reports of similar cases continue to flood in and 160 police officers are under investigation for ignoring the victims pleas - it is therefore no surprise that the police want these protests stopped.
"If Britain First has to take to the streets to highlight the failings of South Yorkshire Police in order to protect innocent children then that is what we will continue to do."
Weyman Bennett, joint national secretary of UAF, said he was not in favour of a blanket ban on protests.
He said: "Instead of just banning demonstrations, because there can be demos about the NHS and other things, the most effective strategy is to say that they can protest, but not in the town centre."
In August the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating how South Yorkshire Police treated complaints of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham, said more than 60 officers had been identified and it was working to identify more than 100 more following referrals from the force.
PCC Dr Alan Billings said: "Every protest diverts funds which could be better used not least in supporting more work in protecting vulnerable people.
"I have never yet had a victim or survivor of CSE or their families ask for this kind of outside intervention."
Rotherham Council also faced massive criticism for its failure to protect children.
Its current leader Chris Read said: "We've asked for the protests to cease in the interests of our town, but the organisers have refused.
"That is why we are backing the new legal avenues being explored by the police."