AN out-of-town security company based nearly 100 miles away employed by Barnsley Council to keep the public out of a fenced-off park was chosen because a local rival ‘may have been harassed’ by members of the public.

Middlesbrough-based Vistech Security - under fire due to its workers’ alleged verbal abuse towards members of the Save Penny Pie Park campaign group - have been at the site, off Dodworth Road, since it was closed to the public in early December.

Complaints were made by local councillors as to why a local firm was not chosen for the job, but the council told the Chronicle that the decision was made from its past experiences - but added that Vistech’s involvement may not be a long-term arrangement.

Coun Chris Lamb, cabinet spokesperson for environment and transport, said: “For an initial short-term period, we’ve contracted an experienced security company to protect the public and the workforce.

“An out-of-area security company was contracted as experience shows that local companies involved in local sensitive schemes may be subject to harassment.

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“The A628 Dodworth Road/Broadway junction improvement scheme is expected to take approximately 12 to 18 months, and we’ll be reviewing our security arrangements as the scheme progresses.”

Campaigners against plans to create a new traffic gyratory within Penny Pie Park were allegedly told to ‘f**k off and get a life’ by Vistech staff after the entire park - including public footpaths - were fenced-off unannounced.

A complaint was subsequently lodged and the matter is being investigated.

A spokesman from the firm told the Chronicle: “Regarding the conduct of Vistech officers at Penny Pie Park I would like to take this opportunity to confirm that we are currently investigating this matter and liaising with Barnsley Council.”

Coun Peter Fielding, who represents the Dodworth ward, said that trust between the council and the public was at an ‘all-time low’.

“The most recent example of this was the decision to close Penny Pie Park without any notice to the local elected members or the community,” he added. “It was done in a manner that appears designed to most antagonise users of the park who disagree with the council’s policy on the future of the park.

“Only the day before I had been in communication with a senior officer about forthcoming works on the park and to say I received an incomplete and misleading reply is something of an understatement.

“It is clear to me that there is no trust between members like myself and this administration and that lack of trust will continue to make working co-operatively and collaboratively very difficult indeed.

“I will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of my residents and carry out all the duties expected of a good local councillor but until there is a significant change in the way this administration interacts with those who disagree with it and stops trying to avoid scrutiny by constantly changing the rules, I will be unwilling to work with the administration in any way that could be construed as validating its activities.”