A review into the engagement of South Yorkshire Police with Rotherham communities in connection with the 5 September protests in the town has now been published.
In anticipation that there will be more such protests in the town, the report proposes that a Protests Advisory Panel be established as soon as possible. The Panel would provide advice to South Yorkshire Police when a group indicates it will be protesting in the town by offering comment on proposals for handling the event. The aim will be that the Force will benefit from Panel advice but the Panel will not make decisions on operational matters.
The report suggests that the Panel should consist of senior figures from local businesses, faith groups and the local authority. It also proposes that a Panel member should lead a group of observers available during every protest event. The observers should report back afterwards with a summary of ‘lessons learnt’ and recommendations for future events.
Andrew Lockley, Co-Author of the Report, said: “Many members of the public told us that these protest events should be prohibited, but this can only happen in very limited circumstances. The Police do have powers to place conditions on marchers and their route, and this is often controversial. On 5 September, two competing groups wanted to protest in the same space.
“We looked at the work of the Parades Commission of Northern Ireland. It is thought to have been successful in reducing tensions around sectarian marches. There are lessons here for Rotherham even though the Panel which we propose would not have the legal powers available to the PCNI.
“The two trials which have ended in the past week, have attracted further unwelcome attention to Rotherham. In the event of further marches, a Protests Panel will offer a formal way for the local community to contribute to decisions about routes and conditions. It will aim to support the Police in minimising the damage to community relations and to commercial activity when a march takes place. It will work to limit the negative impact of protests and promote a united front against further attempts to undermine the health of the town. This will support community confidence – in policing, in business and in community relations, which will be for the benefit of all the people of Rotherham.”
Co-Author Imam Mohammad Ismail, said: “The far-right groups have expressed anti-Muslim and anti-Islam views, which has led to the Muslim community feeling threatened and to a believed increase of ‘hate crime’ incidents and a feeling of under-reporting within the community.
“This and heightened emotions and fears within the community that were exacerbated following the murder of Mr Mushin Ahmed in Rotherham in August and other violent incidents changed the mood of the local Muslim community. The scale of this change was not immediately detected by the Police, but it contributed to the mobilisation of a large counter-protest on 5 September.”
In setting the terms of Reference for the review South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings explicitly stated that the review was not a ‘scrutiny’ of the tactics used on the 5 September.
“In setting the scope of the review I wanted it to look at the engagement of the Force with communities in Rotherham to see what lessons could be learnt to enable them to better anticipate the mood of local communities.
“I have received the report and will be urgently considering the best approach to establishing a pilot panel that can assist with all future marches and protests across South Yorkshire, not just in Rotherham. I am looking at my current Independent Ethics Panel and my Minority Communities Independent Advisory Panel to see if the current membership can be used to create a Protests Panel.”
Since October 2012 there have been 20 protests within South Yorkshire, 14 of which have been in Rotherham. Nearly all have been organised by far-right groups. The estimated cost to date for policing these marches is around £4 million.