Simon Cole's First Person column appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
A reasonable price to pay for freedom of speech?
In the wake of the EDL visit, the Chief Constable Simon Cole asks a vital question
As Chief Constable, every day I set about spending your money wisely to protect communities across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Over the course of the year I spend more than £175 million.
Most of that money is spent on police officers and police staff who carry out many and varied roles. Some of those are highly visible that you may see out in your community, others are attached to departments combining a wide range of specialist skills to create a diverse police force that provides a professional service to all.
No matter what role my colleagues undertake I am proud to say that they are not afraid to put themselves on the line to protect you.
Last Saturday, I spent rather more money than on an average day. In broad figures I will have spent somewhere in the region of £800,000 in dealing with the protests in the city that day and ensuring contingencies were available throughout Leicestershire and Rutland.
Of course, the actual cost is much more than that because in the weeks leading up to the event we have focused our efforts into planning and preparation for the protests as have our colleagues in the city council and other agencies.
I am sure that you would expect nothing less than for us to prepare in a professional way, but being diverted away from some of our other priorities is less than ideal. It is also unavoidable.
Of course, it is for the police to walk the line that our oath requires us to walk, and that we choose to take. Officers swear to serve the Queen without fear or favour, and in doing so we simply must respect and enforce the law.
Parliament, on behalf of us all, has put a high price on the right to free speech and this is supported by rights of assembly and protest. In relatively recent history we know that people gave their lives to protect the right to free speech in a series of brutal wars. The price that we are currently paying is considerably less. But we are paying it nonetheless and for Saturday it will mean a bill that will be met from local police funds.
It is not for the police to set the laws, but I do think that there needs to be some reflection about the costs and expectations placed on police forces as we are currently paying, on your behalf, the price of free speech. That price is significant, and it is paid with the money paid in through taxes by us all. My question is whether, in an age of austerity, the price is a reasonable one to pay and how much should event organisers contribute?