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Police chief: 'too many' marches

1 October 09 14:36 GMT

The chief constable of Strathclyde Police has said his officers deal with "too many" marches and parades.

Stephen House's comments came at a meeting of the force's management body which considered two reports on the social and financial impact of parades.

Strathclyde Police Authority (SPA) heard that more than 1,000 events in the last financial year took up nearly 50,000 police hours at a cost of £1.7m.

The reports also highlighted increased incidents of violence and disorder.

Two reports on marches and parades - one covering police resources and another on violence and disorder - went before the authority.

The paper on resources showed that from 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009 there were 1,061 marches and parades in the Strathclyde force area.

These required a total of 49,859 police hours at a cost of £1,714,374.

More than a third of this cost - £596,398 - was incurred in policing the main Orange parade through Glasgow on 5 July 2008.

The report also said that between March 2008 and April 2009, Glasgow had more parades involving Protestant Loyal Order and Republican organisations than Belfast, with 247 compared with Belfast's 217.

A separate report on violence, disorder and antisocial behaviour focuses on Orange parades in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire in the first two weeks of July this year.

It noted an increased number of common, serious and racially motivated assaults, including assaults on police officers as well as rises in weapons possessions, vandalism, breach of the peace and street drinking.

'Out of balance'

Chief Constable House said the events were stretching police resources, with officers deployed to cover marches instead of dealing with other duties.

He told the meeting: "It is not our role as the police to tell communities how many parades they are to hold.

"That is not our role and it's not this body's role but I think it is our job to flag up to you where we feel there is disproportionate use of police time and your budget and that's what we believe is happening at the moment.

"We believe the hundreds that exist are too many. It's out of balance. By discussion we believe that we could reach a more reasonable number and a more reasonable settlement for everybody."

He said the police will only object to a parade or march on safety grounds.

Paul Rooney, SPA convener, said: "The burden that the 1,000 or more marches has on the force resources is unsustainable.

"We are keen to ensure that we uphold people's freedom of expression, however we have to ensure that every single parade and march is proportionate and reasonable."

Recent comments from Strathclyde Police and Glasgow City Council over the number of marches and parades has drawn criticism from the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland.

The organisation's grand master, Ian Wilson, told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme its parades were well stewarded and the amount of policing dedicated to the events were out of proportion.

'Law-abiding' organisation

He said: "It shocks us that the police tend to police, particularly the Glasgow parade, almost like a military operation.

"I think the statistics give us difficulty, there's no question about that, we are a law-abiding organisation, we are a police-supporting organisation, and to be honest one incident or one arrest is one too many.

"But at the end of the day I also have some difficulties with the statistics themselves."

Mr Wilson said that one figure for a 1,775% increase in arrests for public drinking only referred to six incidents.

He said the offer has been there from the Orange Order to sit down and talk about a possible reduction to the number of parades and to carry out debriefs after events, but that Glasgow City Council had been "dragging their heels" and there had been no movement from the police.

The Strathclyde Police Authority said the issue of the strain on its finances comes at a time when the authority is actively working to address a considerable deficit in next year's budget.

Mr Wilson added: "My message to both the police and the local authorities is - let's stop the posturing, stop the spin, and some of the dodgy statistics, and let's get round the table and talk about this."

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