Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Calls for Rotherham 'protest panel' to advise South Yorkshire Police

EDL march on Main Street, Rotherham by police station and council offices

An independent panel should be set up to advise South Yorkshire Police on how to deal with far-right protest marches in Rotherham, a report has said.

The review said the panel would help "limit the negative impact" of demonstrations on the town.

It was commissioned by Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings after Muslim groups boycotted the force following a Britain First march in September 2015.

The force said it hoped such a panel would be of "significant benefit".

Report co-author Andrew Lockley said the panel would offer a "formal way" for the community to contribute to decisions about marches and support police in minimising the damage to community relations and businesses from protests.

Dr Billings said he was "urgently considering the best approach to establishing a pilot panel".

Since October 2012, there have been 14 protests in Rotherham - 11 since the Jay Report found at least 1,400 girls had been sexually exploited in the town.

'Change in mood'

The report said the September 2015 march, attended by about 300 Britain First supporters, and a counter-demonstration, which also attracted abut 300 people, passed off without "serious injury to the public or police", though about 20 people were arrested.

However, it said there had been a "failure to appreciate the scale of the change in mood of the local Muslim community" by police and that the force "did not appear to anticipate the numbers who would turn out to oppose BF would be greater than on previous occasions".

It said the panel - which it compared to the Parades Commission of Northern Ireland - should consist of no more than six people, including a "well respected individual from outside Rotherham" as chair.

"We envisage that the panel would be a standing group, which should be set up as soon as possible - and certainly before the 2016 'marching season' begins," it said.

"It should remain in existence for as long as the town is targeted by far-right protesters."

Ch Supt Steven Graham, from South Yorkshire Police said: "We share their hope that the creation of an independent panel will be of significant benefit to the people of Rotherham."

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