Rotherham Should Have Panel to Advise on Protests

1 March 2016, 15:16 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

Rotherham signs

An advisory panel should be set-up in a town plagued by right-wing rallies, according to an independent report.

The report into the policing of marches in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, follows a disturbance at a march by the far right Britain First group last year which led to a series of arrests and a call from a Muslim youth organisation to withdraw all cooperation with the police.

It has concluded that a panel should be set up to advise on a range of matters, although it should not have responsibility for operational policing.

South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings, commissioned solicitor Andrew Lockley and Imam Mohammad Ismail to review policing after the demonstration on September 5 last year involving about 300 far right protesters and a similar numbers of opposing demonstrators.

After the march went through the town centre, the report said, the counter-demostrators were being encouraged to disperse by police when there was a disturbance in Wellgate.

A number of people were arrested and 20 were charged with offences which are still being dealt with by the criminal justice system, the report said.

Dr Billings ordered the review after the events of September 5 provoked a backlash in some sections of the community in Rotherham.

The authors said the immediate trigger was a statement by British Muslim Youth (BMY) which said it had "voted for all Muslim organisations (whether religious or secular) which claim to represent Muslims in Rotherham, to cut off all lines of engagement and communication with SYP.

"This policy will be in effect until and unless SYP can treat our community with respect and fairness, just as we have done with the police force going back over many decades.''

The report said the BMY subsequently issued a second statement in which it modified its stance.

Tuesday's report said the Advisory Panel for Protests should be chaired by a well-respected individual from outside Rotherham.

The authors said they had taken some inspiration from Northern Ireland's Parades Commission but stressed the Rotherham panel would not have the same powers to prohibit marching routes.

The report said: "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 should remain in existence for as long as the town is targeted by far right protesters.''

Rotherham has been a target for far-right demonstrations since the scandal broke over child sexual exploitation by gangs of men of mainly Pakistani heritage.

The report said there have been 14 marches in recent years costing police an additional #4 million, mainly due to drafting in help from outside forces. It also details the cost to the town's business and community cohesion caused by the protests.

The authors also proposed a "cohort of observers'' to be recruited to monitor protest under police protection.

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

"No doubt there are lessons being learnt from this; our view is that because South Yorkshire Police already recognises the great importance of community engagement, the focus should be on developing new channels for listening to the mood of local communities.''