Nigel Farage has been forced to abandon a public appearance in Rotherham amid protests and accusations of “rubber-necking” at victims of child sex abuse.
The Ukip leader was due to cut the ribbon on the campaign office of would-be MP Jane Collins, but his team said he was not coming out of the building in the South Yorkshire town on police advice.
Mr Farage is set to have dinner at the Grand Hotel, in Hartlepool, later today before holding the party’s North East conference at the Borough Hall tomorrow.
He picked the town after stating it is “the best place” to gain a regional breakthrough.
Mr Farage insisted he was the victim of “trade union-funded” bullying, while a party spokesman branded 40-strong group of demonstrators “hard-line Socialist Workers”.
But Labour’s local MP, Sarah Champion, said his visit to the town amounted to “rubber-necking” after a damning report into the mishandling of child sex abuse allegations saw the government take over the functions of the council.
“Hilarious Nigel Farage is trapped inside the Rotherham Ukip shop by people objecting to him coming to rubber neck at victims!” she posted on Twitter.
Mr Farage denied he was exploiting what had happened to stir up racial divisions.
“We’re the one party that’s warned consistently against division within society and multiculturalism and we’ve warned against it for years,” he said.
“We want interculturalism. We’ve got different religions and faiths but we have to mix together and we have to live under one law.
“So I think to accuse us of exploiting it is not fair. We have warned for years that things have been going wrong with increasing divisions within society.”
Mr Farage’s visit comes in the wake of the withering Casey report into way Rotherham Council failed to deal with child sexual exploitation in the town.
His party has 10 councillors in the town which is one of its main target seats in the North.
The protesters were peaceful but noisy, many of them carrying placards saying “Reject Ukip lies”, and shouting that the party’s leader was not welcome in the town.
Mr Farage was later escorted out of the office by security and police into waiting police car.
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Mr Farage repeated his party’s call for the whole of Rotherham Council to face re-election in May, rather than waiting until next year.
A Ukip statement said: “These protesters aren’t the real people of Rotherham. This is the Labour Party running scared and trying to shut down any voice of opposition.
“They are just people who are trying to stifle democratic debate. Surely they should be directing their anger at those who presided over the industrial scale of abuse in this town, rather than those who are trying to change it for the better.
“They are more interested in keeping power than serving the people, which is what led to the cover-up.”
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Mr Farage was critical of the police response to the incident, which he blamed on trade unions.
Speaking to the BBC, the Ukip leader said: “A bit more co-operation from the police might be nice.
“The trade unions are funding this sort of thing all over the country. They are funded protests.
“Democracy is about exchanging views and people making up their minds. What this trade union hate campaign is trying to do is to stop Ukip even speaking, and they are prepared to use violence to do it.”