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Huge cost of policing EDL protest in Bradford comes under scrutiny
6:00am Tuesday 15th October 2013 in News
A review of legislation that allows groups like the English Defence League to hold demonstrations that are intent on “disruption” should be carried out, senior figures have urged.
West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, Bradford MPs, and the leader of Bradford Council called for changes in the wake of the EDL’s visit to Bradford on Saturday.
Mr Burns-Williamson led the way with a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, citing an estimated £1m policing bill arising from Saturday’s demonstration.
He also asked the Home Secretary to consider providing chief constables, in consultation with “key local stakeholders”, with enhanced powers to ban events like the one held by the EDL, given that they are “targeted at specific communities and intended to cause division and disruption”.
Mr Burns-Williamson pointed to the impact on the community and businesses on a prime shopping day, as people stayed away from the city centre.
“The time has come for all this to be reviewed, given the amount of disruption and tension they cause,” said Mr Burns-Williamson.
“It really needs a root and branch review of the situation. While, yes, we all agree with freedom of expression and protest, has it now gone beyond that?
“I was at the event on Friday in Bradford. It was fairly obvious no-one wanted the EDL in Bradford.”
Mr Burns-Williamson also raised the possibility of a levy being imposed on groups like the EDL so that they contribute to costs when they want to hold demonstrations.
He added: “There could be a number of options – these organisations themselves could be asked to contribute to costs.
“This revolves around the legal framework of who has powers to do what. The marching was banned and there is power to do that. You could argue that the process of static demonstration causes as much disruption as a march.”
Bradford West MP George Galloway said the only way forward was to ban, by law, organisations such as the EDL.
He said: “The cost was to not only the public purse, which was enormous enough, but the private sector cost was absolutely enormous.
“I reckon another £1m or more was lost in the private sector – shops were empty and the city centre was a ghost town. All for the so-called free speech rights of this group.”
He continued: “I have demanded from Theresa May in a letter this morning that the EDL must be proscribed and made an illegal organisation so their marches and protests can be banned.”
Bradford East MP David Ward (Lib Dem) backed the call for local communities to have more say in whether demonstrations get the go-ahead.
He said he would like to see the decisions devolved from the Home Secretary to local Police and Crime Commissioners.
He said: “I believe it should be a decision that is made at a local level, based on local circumstances.
“For instance, if there had been negotiation with the counter-demonstration that took place, we could have reduced the cost substantially.”
But Mr Ward said it would not be straightforward to proscribe the EDL, making them an illegal organisation.
He said: “The legislation which enables you to proscribe is terrorist legislation – it’s completely inappropriate. We would have to be looking at brand new legislation.”
On the cost of the policing operation, Mr Burns-Williamson said: “The figure so far is at £1m which, at a time of huge budget cutbacks, is not what we need. Once I have the final costing, I am submitting a special grant application to the Home Office.”
Bradford Council leader Councillor David Green said the cost of the EDL demonstration to the authority could top £200,000 – double the £100,000 it set aside as a contingency.
He added: “There has clearly got to be a debate on the right to peaceful demonstration versus the right of local people to carry on their lives.
“The history of organisations has got to be looked at to make a judgement on whether they will be peaceful or not. I hope the events of Saturday give people pause for thought and to look at options available to us.”
Coun Green also said he had spoken to a number of businesses in the wake of the EDL’s visit who said they suffered financially.
Mike Cartwright, of Bradford Chamber, said: “We are very pleased that the event went off quietly and that it was successfully managed by the police and Council.”