Police have defended their decision not to ban two opposing groups staging marches through Rotherham town centre on Saturday – sparking fears there could be clashes.
The English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism are both set to stage rallies at the same time, with both expected to bring more than 200 supporters.
The EDL organised its march first in response to the publication of confidential police and council reports on gangs of Asian men grooming young girls for in the town for sex. The reports highlighted abuse spanning a decade and revealed a lack of police staff to deal with the issue and publicly acknowledge the seriousness of the problem.
Demonstrators plan to meet at the County Borough at 11.30am and start marching from 12.30pm, taking a route along Corporation Street and Ship Hill before gathering outside Rotherham Town Hall for a number of public speeches. The group has agreed to clear the area by 1.30pm.
United Against Fascism, is expecting 250 supporters to attend its event in All Saints’ Square between 11am and 4pm. Supporters plan to march to the Town Hall after the EDL members have left the area. Their march will take them along Church Street – the Minster side of Minster Gardens – and directly up Moorgate Street.
A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said: “People have asked why can’t we ban the march. In a democratic society, people have the right to legal and peaceful protest. Any attempt to ban a march such as that proposed this weekend would involve invoking the Public Order Act and an application, via the local authority, to the Home Secretary, demonstrating a real prospect of serious disruption and disorder that could be dealt with by no other means.
“We do not believe this to be the case here. Based on the information available and liaison with the event organisations, South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council have put in place a plan that deals with all contingencies. Both South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council are working with local businesses and communities to provide as much information as possible about the events.
“Both organisations will be deploying additional staff to the town centre on Saturday and whilst respecting people’s right to protest peacefully, appropriate action will be taken to deal with any disorder.”
See also “Rotherham prepares to oppose the racist English Defence League”, Socialist Worker, 12 October 2012