This is Nicola. She is 65 years old and suffers from MS, as well as a movement disorder which makes her visibly disabled. While attempting to defend trees yesterday, she fell ill and was unable to walk. There were over 60 security operatives and police, who had taken over the street, turning it into a quasi-militarised zone.
Protestors were being dragged away from trees.
Nicola became worried about her presence near a tree, and confused by the conflicting claims that police and security were making to her. She asked two security operatives to help her out of the tree felling zone. They did, but then knocked her over in their zeal to get to another protestor, giving no thought to her medical condition. This video shows the events clearly.
After having been knocked over by security guards, her condition worsened substantially, as she began to have heart palpitations and was unable to move. Although there were around 30 police officers on the scene, there were no medics and it was fellow protestors with first aid training who were monitoring Nicola’s vital signs and checking her condition. The barrier men refused to remove the barrier that was on top of her legs, though the police eventually persuaded them to do this. The police realised she needed to get to a hospital, but could not get her there. There were no ambulances available, and the barriers filling the streets meant that the police vans could not get through. Moreover, the police had no stretchers, although they had authorised the use of force on protestors. So Nicola lay on the cold wet ground as they tried to find a way to get her out. After a very long delay, the barrier men finally moved the barriers, and eventually (the barriers are slow to move) the police were able to carry Nicola to a police van and get her to a hospital.
This is exactly the sort of thing many of us in Sheffield feared would happen. We warned Amey (the contractor) and the Sheffield City Council that blocking off whole streets like this with tall fencing would be a disaster if there was a medical emergency. But this, like so much else, has been ignored. The council ignored its own panels of experts in 87% of the cases in which they recommended keeping trees (by using techniques like a thinner kerbstone), and have forged ahead with felling healthy trees, even when this is against the overwhelming wishes of residents, and even at the cost of residents’ safety (as this case illustrates).
The street where this incident happened was no ordinary street, and the trees being fought for were no ordinary trees: this street is famous for the Christmas lights it puts in its trees, to raise money for charity. The residents overwhelmingly wanted to keep these trees, which are part of a beloved annual tradition, and which were originally paid for by donations from residents, many of whom still live on the street, in their 80s and 90s.
But that is of no consequence to the Labour-led council. Despite the fact the Labour party nationally is now strongly opposed to PFI contracts like their contract with Amey, they will apparently do anything to enforce the wishes of the private contractor. Neither they nor Amey have been able to give coherent answers for why all the expert advice is being ignored in order to fell healthy trees against residents’ wishes, but that is what they are insisting on doing — at any cost. They demonise protestors like Nicola, insisting that vast security forces and police presence are needed. Then, having built up the idea that protestors like Nicola are dangerous thugs, they seem utterly unable to see them as vulnerable citizens in need of medical attention — even when they are lying on the ground unable to move and trapped under a barrier.
This is not how a Labour government should behave: allowing a private company to insist on destroying the trees of the greenest city in Europe, against expert advice and residents’ wishes; turning its streets into quasi-militarised zones; demonising peaceful protestors; and continuing, day after day, to waste scarce resources to do all this. Other councils are pulling out of their contracts with Amey. Sheffield could do so without penalty. Why don’t they? The Inside Out programme has already begun asking difficult questions, as has the Yorkshire Post. These questions only get more pressing as it becomes clearer what vast lengths the council will go to. Let’s just hope more people aren’t injured in the process.
(To urge Sheffield to rescind the contract without penalty, go here.)