‘We do not have a history for this kind of thing’

A South Yorkshire police van and officers parked on Angel Street in Sheffield  city centre this week.   PICTURE: SARAH WASHBOURN.
A South Yorkshire police van and officers parked on Angel Street in Sheffield city centre this week. PICTURE: SARAH WASHBOURN.

POLICE in Sheffield were this week looking to their close relationships with neighbourhood community groups to help steer clear of the riots that have devastated other parts of the country.

Although emergency meetings were held and contingency plans put in place, police and civic leaders pointed to the city having avoided widespread disturbance in the past to support hopes that trouble will be avoided.

“Sheffield is a very safe city, it’s a tolerant city and it’s a multicultural city,” said temporary Deputy District Commander Chief Supt Martin Scothern earlier in the week.

“It does not have a history of this kind of thing – we are better than that. But we are still watching everything every closely and are asking people to talk to us if they have concerns.”

At the same time, officers were on standby to provide extra numbers in the event of any signs of copycat violence reaching Sheffield .

Mr Scothern said: “We are watching the situation as it develops very carefully and we are asking communities to work with us.

“Parents also have a role to play in this – rioting is a serious offence and many of those involved in the Bradford riots for example received prison sentences of between six and 12 years. This new generation of youths involved in the disorder being experienced elsewhere may not be aware of that.”

Council deputy chief executive Lee Adam said: “We have been liaising closely with the police and are keeping in regular contact. We have normal arrangements which come in to place if an emergency arises – these plans are always in place.”

Youth workers had been asked to speak to youngsters as part of their day-to-day work about the rioting and looting in other parts of the country and to highlight the risks and dangers of getting involved in anything similar in Sheffield.

Brightside and Hillsborough MP and former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who was leader of Sheffield council at the time of the 1981 inner-city riots in other parts of the country, said: “Thirty years ago and again back in 2001 Sheffield avoided the terrible destruction by drawing on the sense of identity and community, the feeling of belonging which makes Sheffield what has been described as ‘the biggest village in England’.

“Pray God that people feel that they should protect rather than destroy their community and their city at this moment in time. Anarchy always damages the cause of progress and this is true as much today as it was 30 years ago.”

Hopes that Sheffield can steer clear of disturbances were reflected yesterday (Wednesday) on social networking site Twitter.

“Proud to wake up to Sheffield standing firm – steel city, not steal city – but saddened by the sight of Manchester riots,” said one message.

Another said: “Sheffield is now the largest city in England not to riot. Proud to be from Sheffield.” And: “We are pleased to see that South Yorkshire has remained calm overnight. Let’s keep it that way.”

A Facebook group called “Sheffield people are too intelligent to riot and destroy their own city” quickly attracted nearly 300 members.

And Facebook was being used to encourage young people to go to the Peace Gardens thuis afternoon (Thursday) and tomorrow “to show support to those who’ve suffered due to the riots, and to show that we do not agree with the actions of the looters in other respective cities.

“The event will include fancy dress, bubbles and flowers. No violence, no riots, no chaos. Just nice people supporting the rest of the country.”

South Yorkshire Police was using Twitter to keep people informed and to appeal for information.