ONE of Yorkshire’s most senior police officers has urged the Government to consider changing the law to make it harder for far-Right activists to stage protests which have cost the region’s forces millions of pounds.
South Yorkshire Police’s chief constable David Crompton says “the time has come” to re-examine legislation covering the right to peaceful assembly amid fears over the rising cost of policing local demonstrations by the English Defence League (EDL).
He is the latest senior policing figure in the region to call for government officials to look at changing the 1986 Public Order Act so similar static demonstrations are subject to greater restrictions in future.
Rotherham has seen three EDL protests in 18 months, each costing £500,000 to police. The group has vowed to return to the town “on a very regular basis”.
Earlier this month 1,000 officers were called into Rotherham as around 500 EDL supporters were met with a counter protest from Unite Against Fascism. No arrests were made local businesses said they lost trade, with many shops not opening.
South Yorkshire’s police commissioner Shaun Wright, whose budget is shrinking by millions of pounds a year due to Government cuts, has applied for a Special Grant from the Home Office to pay for the costs of policing the EDL protest.
Mr Crompton said: “From an operational perspective we do need to look for other options that would place restrictions on people’s right to assembly, whatever those options may be.
“I do think that is a touchy subject, because we are getting very close to what is people’s freedom of speech. But by the same token there has to be a sense of proportion about this.
“These events cost us about half a million pounds every time and that is half a million pounds we would rather be spending on something else.
“Either somebody changes the law so that it’s less easy to do this or alternatively there are some funds available that we can tap into. As it stands we have a lot of power over marches but we don’t have in any way, the same control over assemblies. I do think that perhaps the time has come to look at some of that legislation.”
In 2013, The Yorkshire Post revealed that West Yorkshire Police spent more than £3 million in the past four years on keeping the peace at EDL demonstrations.
According to the Public Order Act, police have powers to control static protests, but do not have the power to ban them as they can with processions or marches.
Restrictions on time, duration and maximum numbers of protesters can be imposed if officers believe the assembly is designed to intimidate others or that the measures are necessary to prevent serious public disorder.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Peaceful protest is a vital part of a democratic society, provided it is conducted within the law. But protesters’ rights need to be balanced with the rights of others.”
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