Sheffield lights switch-on hit by row over police bill

Sheffield City Centre Fright Night.....The City Centre a mass of crowds and colour
Sheffield City Centre Fright Night.....The City Centre a mass of crowds and colour

A ROW has broken out between the organiser of this weekend’s Christmas lights switch-on and South Yorkshire Police - after the force issued a £3,700 bill for having officers on duty at the event.

Police have already charged £8,000 for covering the Fright Night Halloween festival two weeks ago, and now talks are being held with Sheffield Council over the cost of policing the start of the city centre’s festive illuminations on Sunday.

The family event starts at 5pm and is to be attended by the cast of the Lyceum’s Christmas pantomime, Cinderella, as well as Matt Cardle and Joe McElderry, former contestants on TV talent show The X Factor.

Police are not expecting trouble, but say they will be needed in case of an emergency.

Scott Barton, managing director of Yellow Bus Events, which is responsible for the switch-on and Fright Night, said: “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.”

Mr Barton 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.”

Last month, a Far Right rally in Rotherham cost an estimated £1million in extra policing and loss to the South Yorkshire economy, but demonstrators were not billed.

South Yorkshire Police said the political 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.

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.