POLICE are being accused of choking the life out of events in Sheffield city centre - by charging to attend the Christmas lights switch-on this weekend.
South Yorkshire Police has already levied a bill of around £8,000 on the organisers of Fright Night two weeks ago.
Now the force is in talks with Sheffield Council over a £3,700 bill to cover the policing of Sunday’s Christmas lights switch-on.
The family event is to be attended by the cast of The Lyceum theatre’s Christmas pantomime Cinderella, and X Factor stars Matt Cardle and Joe McElderry.
Police are not expecting trouble - but say they will be needed in case of an emergency.
Last month a Far Right rally in Rotherham cost an estimated £1 million in extra policing and loss to the South Yorkshire economy, but demonstrators were not billed.
Scott Barton, managing director of Fright Night organisers Yellow Bus events, said: “Have we really got to the point where English Defence League andd National Front marches in Rotherham are policed free of charge, but family events attract a fee?
“Family events are run on a tight budget, and extra policing charges could end up strangulating them.
“Events like Fright Night and the Christmas lights switch-on provide positive activities for children and young people, and reduce anti-social behaviour - saving the police money.
“Police actively encourage people to attend.”
He added: “Football clubs do not have to pay for policing outside their grounds and the Liberal Democrats were not charged for policing a demonstration when they held their Spring conference in Sheffield last year.”
Sheffield Council chief executive, John Mothersole, said: “We are working to resolve this issue and the charge will have no effect on the Christmas lights switch-on going ahead.”
South Yorkshire Police said the English Defence League and National Front demonstrations, and the protest outside the Lib Dem conference, were people ‘exercising their democratic right to free speech’ so could not be charged for.
And the law does not allow police to reclaim the cost of policing football matches outside grounds.
But charges for the public events are being levied under the Police Act 1996, which allows fees to be claimed for large scale events.
Organisers of Tramlines free music festival are already charged a fee to cover policing.
A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “Funding streams we had in the past to help cover the cost of policing public events have been axed and, while both Fright Night and the Christmas lights switch-on are community events, they also have profit-making elements.
“Fright Night saw four arrests and, while the risk of crime at the Christmas lights is low, there are still road closures, emergency duties and there could be incidents such as a bomb scare.
“We appreciate the charges are a concern and we will work with the organisers to ensure the costs do not put these events in danger.” Police said the charges being levied are less than half the actual cost of policing the events.