A welcome dose of transparency from Sheffield City Council

Analysis by Paul Selby

Since I became active in the tree campaign over 31 months ago, I have fought for transparency around the PFI contract, for all that can be legally released unredacted to be released. I work in the Civil Service, and I know the benefits of transparency in terms of holding authority to account. That famous phrase: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” is absolutely true, and I have seen the genuine benefits many times over.

I have always held the strong view that, with maximum transparency of the PFI contract, some of the deep suspicions and conspiracy theories about why the so many street trees were being felled would be proved false. Also that the true root causes of the issue would become known; so that options for solving the argument could be discussed openly, without distrust and doubt, with the aim of saving as many trees as possible, at little or no cost to Sheffield Council.

I made these representations many times to Cllr. Lodge and Council officials throughout 2017 and early 2018, to no avail. However, as the Information Commissioner slowly but surely forced sections of the contract to be released, with those uncontrolled revelations being delivered out of context, the street tree issue looked more and more like a genuine conspiracy, culminating in the mid-March 2018 revelation about the 17,500 tree felling figure contained in Schedule 2 of the contract. Coinciding with the arrival of Cllr. Lewis Dagnall, who also believes in more openness and transparency, the Council decided to hasten work already started to release as much of the PFI contract as possible. On Tuesday this week, the big release of documentation occurred, which can be found on the Council website.

This is to be hugely welcomed, and I genuinely thank and congratulate the Council for doing this, even if it is four years later than it should have been.

What is even more welcome is that, since late April, I have held three conversations with Council Officers, led by Paul Billington, two of these conversations lasting more than 90 minutes. In these conversations, they explained in detail what some parts of the wording of the documentation mean, how contract processes work, the governance arrangements. They allowed me to ask detailed questions, and they gave me open answers.

You can all peruse the documentation at your leisure. It is complex, some of it in legalese, vast chunks of it irrelevant to the street tree issue. (I would suggest focusing on Schedules 12 and 21, plus all the previous versions of the Five Year Tree Management Strategy, if you are most interested in street trees).

Some key points you may be interested in:


1) Whilst still not 100% clear, the 17,500 tree number does genuinely appear to be an “insurance policy” rather than a target. It’s highly complex to explain, but prior to signing the PFI contract, it appears that the Council genuinely feared being charged additional costs for felling and replacing additional trees, if unexpectedly large numbers of street trees died, for example from a new invasive pest or disease. I always worried that by inserting this figure, it provided the incentive for Amey to fell precisely that number over the course of the contract. The newly released information seems to go a long way to demonstrating that governance procedures prevent this. There are two processes in which Amey submit felling recommendations, through which the Council can scrutinise the recommendation, and choose to reject the felling, for valid reasons.

2) As I always suspected, the Council inserted contract requirement for a straight kerb line is what has driven most of the felling recommendations of healthy trees. Yes the governance procedure outlined in point 1 above could allow the Council to reject the Amey felling recommendation. But a Council rejection in this situation would in effect be an invalid rejection, as they would be ignoring their own kerb standards. The proposals that Amey and the Council are currently working on focus on the potential to relax this strict kerb standard, particularly as the Highways Act doesn’t require such strict standards.

3) The previously missing versions of the Five Year Tree Management Strategy have now been found. Previously, in answers to FoI questions, the Council had said the documents had been lost. But determined searching has found them. What is fascinating is that all the missing versions were drafted by Amey, as they were required to in the contract, and are much more technical. The only version previously released is out of line with the other documents, because it was written by the Council. This was very confusing to me at first, but after a lot of questions I understood. Strategy documents are statements of intent, but aren’t always delivered, as operational realities and difficulties mean strategy intent can’t always be realised. The newly released Tree Strategy documents are Amey’s strategy documents. The previously released Strategy document is the Council’s own strategy. They are similar, as you would imagine for a contractor/supplier relationship. But they are different. In particular, the Council strategy includes an intent for 14 free engineering solutions to save trees, many of which are actually in reality ruled out in parts of the PFI contract. Like I say, strategic intent doesn’t always align with operational reality! Obviously, the Council could and should have been clearer about this in the past, as it led to much misunderstanding for campaigners.

4) The first Amey version of the Five Year Tree Management Strategy, the 2012 version, includes a 25 year plan to fell 17,500 trees. The later versions don’t. I was told by Council Officers that this was because the first version was in effect “Version 0,” submitted by Amey in February 2012 prior to the contract being signed. The later versions, after the contract was signed didn’t contain the plan because that wasn’t the agreed plan. This sounded very suspicious to me, so following questions, I was told that the Version 0 plan was in effect a “theoretical best estimate” to demonstrate “what if.” Whilst I still remain suspicious about this, what the Council told me does ring at least some truth for me. In my day job I have been asked to submit demonstration plans which have no real evidence base, and are in effect also “theoretical best estimates” that have limited basis in reality

5) There are sections of the contract still redacted and not released. Having asked questions about all these documents, I’m as confident as it is possible to be without actually seeing the documents myself, that only commercially confidential information and personal information remains redacted. That’s not to say that some of the commercially confidential information would still be interesting and relevant to understanding the tree issue. But I do understand the legal reasons why these sections should remain redacted.

Finally, I want to make this clear that I went to the meetings with the Council as a private citizen concerned about transparency, not as a member of STAG Steering Group or Save Nether Edge Trees.

I am still critical about the way the Council have handled the recent injunction extension, sending out unnecessarily threatening letters, destroying much of the trust that had begun to build since the felling pause began. As a street tree campaigner, I have and will continue to criticise the Council where relevant, and fight as hard as I have done this last 31 months to save as many street trees as possible. As you will understand from having read points 1) to 5) above, some questions still remain.

But credit where it is due, the new broom of Cllr. Dagnall has started to make a difference. Much of the PFI contract has been released, sunshine can begin to disinfect the stench of secrecy, and we can start to work on root cause solutions. Everything I have seen and heard recently from Cllr. Dagnall and Council Officers makes me genuinely believe that good progress is being made to save a significant proportion of the remaining trees, and that a firm proposal will be made over the summer.
Will it be enough? Will it be evidence based and explain in clear detail why some of the trees still need to be felled? Time will tell. But I’m more confident than I’ve ever been.

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Posted in News, Blog, Streets Ahead contract analysis

Injunction renewal hearing – 12th July 2018

SHEFFIELD HIGH COURT, 12 July 2018

report by Sheldon Hall

New readers start here:

On 21 June, thirteen tree campaigners were sent letters by Sheffield City Council, asking them to sign an undertaking based on a reworked version of the injunction issued last summer and due to expire on 25 July, which SCC hoped to renew and extend for three years. They were invited to sign with a promise that if they did so they would face no legal costs. They had a week to decide how to respond. All refused to sign.

There were nine named defendants in the revised injunction application, four of whom actively opposed it in court while the other five merely declined to sign. The remaining four had been sent the injunction papers but were not officially named as defendants. SCC repeatedly failed to respond to requests from the campaigners’ legal teams to clarify the status of these others, deemed ‘persons unknown’.

Got that? Good.

The second day of hearings began with a private meeting of the two legal teams in offices at the Town Hall. If the entire negotiations had taken place there, the taxpayer could have been saved a bill estimated at £75,000.

Instead, a lengthy process of what co-defendant Paul Brooke described as ‘obscene horse-trading’ took place on court premises – but mostly not in the courtroom. By my count, proceedings before the judge occupied barely an hour across the two days. Only Sheffield City Council can say why it refused campaigners’ repeated requests to settle the matter beforehand and instead employed two London barristers at huge public expense which it will not get back.

The Ealing-comedy air of the situation was beautifully illustrated at the pre-hearings rally, when two of the defence lawyers pulled up on a pushbike. No taxis or limousines for Paul Powlesland and Ben Manovitch – a bicycle built for one, but ridden by two, was good enough.

Inside the courtroom, the waiting began again. The minutes and hours ticked by even more slowly than yesterday, when at least observers had been excited to know what was going on and indulged in much speculation. Now we knew, and it wasn’t exciting at all.

Some incidental highlights of the day:

– Conscientious and fair-minded council officer Paul Billington spilled water over his desk and had to mop it up with tissues. The spillage left an unsightly stain on the desk covering.

– Mr Powlesland set hearts fluttering by flashing the waistband of his knickers at the public gallery. I don’t remember this happening in RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY.

– Conscientious and fair-minded council officer Paul Billington ate a green apple (as indeed he also had yesterday), disposing of the sticky label out of sight below his desk.

– The unexpected sound of a knock – usually the signal to rise for the judge – caused everyone in the courtroom to snap into position in anticipation of His Honour’s appearance. It was a false alarm, and we all relaxed.

– Conscientious and fair-minded council officer Paul Billington was given a talking-to by a security guard about his use of a mobile phone inside the courtroom. Muted applause from the public gallery.

His Honour Judge Graham Robinson was first called at 11.02am. Katharine Holland QC, representing SCC, opened by pointing out a formatting error in the layout of the draft injunction, which could have caused a misunderstanding. There followed a discussion about the three categories of defendants: the four who had actively defended, the other named five, and ‘persons unknown’.

The business of the court largely having been settled off-stage and no further challenges to the application having been made, His Honour Robinson asked the barristers for the four defendants who had challenged the application, Owen Greenhall and Mr Powlesland, whether they wished to remain for the rest of the proceedings, as there was essentially nothing left for them to do; they elected to stay. The judge also identified those defendants present who had not agreed to sign it; Simon Crump reminded him that he should be referred to as Dr, not Mr, Crump, and the judge – a cheery, jovial sort of fellow – apologised for his error.

Ms Holland proposed to guide His Honour through her skeleton argument as it applied to the non-signatories, and referred to the reading that had been provided for the judge. ‘I’ve had plenty of time to do that, thank you!’ he noted. There was no need to refer in detail to any part of the evidence that had been submitted, including the statements made by Darren Butt and Paul Billington, but Ms Holland said that it showed the ‘continuing need for injunctive relief’.

His Honour then stated that he was not going to ‘draw any adverse inferences’ about anyone who had refused to sign the new injunction, as it was ‘substantially different’ from the one originally awarded by Justice Males last year. This is a point he would return to more emphatically in his closing statements later in the day.

Ms Holland said that the application for a revised injunction had come about because changing circumstances had shown that they were necessary to preserve the intentions of the original injunction. She itemised some of the changes that had been agreed to the first draft of the new injunction. These included the stipulation that slow-walking and other methods of delaying contractors could be used for up to 20 minutes at a time in any given area on any given day. The definition of a safety zone excluded action taking place on private property. Ms Holland also noted that the prohibition on ‘encouraging’ forbidden activities did not extend to general words of encouragement and support for the campaign posted on social media.

His Honour stated that there was no need for him to intervene in the form of the injunction that had been agreed, and that he granted the injunctive relief sought. It was desirable to provide the injunction document as a single file – a combined order – rather than separate ones for the different categories of defendant. The court (which had been booked only for the morning session) was then adjourned for more than two hours while the revised injunction was typed up and printed out.

Proceedings resumed at 2.16pm, when His Honour brought out four copies of ‘the draft’ for the lawyers to proofread. Instructions given, he left again at 2.18pm. The two teams of lawyers then busied themselves checking the text, pens poised for corrections. The draft duly annotated and resubmitted, the Clerk of the Court returned at precisely 3.18pm with newly printed copies of the agreed ‘final’ version. But it proved not to be: defendant Rebecca Hammond noticed that her name had been omitted from the front page, while that of another, Graham Turnbull (not present in court), had been misspelled. The copies were collected in again.

His Honour Judge Robinson took his seat for the last time at 3.25pm. He thanked everyone for the courteous way in which they had conducted themselves over the two days. He reiterated the point made previously by Justice Males: that the court expressed no view one way or the other as to the merits of the tree-felling programme or the tree campaign. He was there only to adjudicate, but in this case his role had been more like that of a mediator. He commended both parties for demonstrating what could be achieved through negotiation.

Most important was this closing observation: ‘If I may say so, the defendants who did not take an active part were **eminently justified** in not signing the original undertaking.’ (My emphasis.)

Council representatives had asked the defendants and their team if they could release a joint press statement. Campaigners agreed on condition that the statement stipulated that the pause in felling would continue until formal mediated talks had been arranged. SCC could not guarantee that, so there was no joint statement. Once again, the council had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Outside the court, co-defendant and STAG co-chair Paul Brooke instead made his own statement on behalf of the other defendants. Courtesy of Mr Brooke, I reproduce it below in full:

“Thirteen people were threatened with huge court costs to force them to sign an injunction.

Thirteen people refused to be bullied. Collectively we opposed the application and faced £75K in costs.

They applied for three years, with a ban on legitimate slow-walking and delaying felling crews.

They wanted to curtail ordinary people’s freedom of speech by preventing people posting encouraging comments on social media.

They wanted to stop people standing on their own property to defend their trees.

The outcome is that they spent £75K on horse-trading a wording with us. We had asked them to do that for free before starting a court process.

The new injunction makes it clear that anything that happens on private property is not restricted by the injunction.

The Council agreed that we can slow-walk and delay felling every day.

The term is not three years but eighteen months.

The judge said the terms are a fair and proportionate balance between the competing interests of the parties.

NONE of us have signed the undertaking but the four of us [who defended] will obey the injunction.”

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Posted in Court case reports, Court cases

Sheffield tree protectors have changed the nation’s view of street trees

Sheffield Town Hall has provided the impetus for a new, inspiring activist campaign. It echoes past successes including the Kinder Trespass movement and even the Suffrage Society. But with the groundswell to stop the cutting down of city trees, the Labour council has found itself on the wrong side of history, writes NATALIE BENNETT

Michael Gove, seeing a groundswell when it rolled towards him, has evenappointed a “tsar” with responsibility to protect street trees.

Town Hall, there’s a plaque commemorating the Kinder Trespass – a local action that led to a major national change in the people’s access to land.

The city was also the location of the nation’s first suffrage society – beginning the campaign that would take the first crucial steps towards women being recognised as equal citizens with men.

But I’m sure that the Save Sheffield Trees campaigners weren’t thinking so big when they started, years ago now, to protest, and then stop – sometimes with their bodies and at risk to their liberty – the felling of thousands of healthy street trees.

Farcical attempts

They were thinking about the health impacts on the people of their city, about the loss of personal and community history (particularly but not only with the war memorial trees), about the loss of refuges for nature – and about the unique, wonderful character of many of the threatened trees.

They started with the local and now news of their actions has spread around, fuelled by the dictatorial ineptitude of Sheffield Council and its multinational contractor Amey(notably the now infamous 5am Rustlings Road raid).

And they have become the focus, the impetus, and sometimes the inspiration, for campaigners around the nation and beyond to identify the problem of the felling of healthy street trees in their communities, often for narrow financial savings for councils and contractors, to the great cost of the rest of us.

A Sheffield street tree, the Chelsea Road elm, finished second in a national Tree of the Year competition on the BBC.

As I’ve charted the increasingly farcical attempts of Amey and Sheffield Council to destroy the public good in the city in the interest of private profit, I’ve had people from around the country getting in contact to say “the same is happening to street and park trees in my community – what can I do?”

Stepped up

They’ve been excited to see the publicity the issue has got in Sheffield and wondered how they can get the same.

That’s not easy – the passion with which the Labour council has lined up behind its multinational contractor and sought to victimise the tree protectors, including a Green councillor elected on a manifesto of supporting residents protecting the trees, is unlikely to be replicated anywhere.

And the cost to the protectors in stress (the threat of prison and swingeing fines), time and energy, is not something you’d wish on anyone. But the impacts of the conflict in South Yorkshire have been felt far beyond the city.

It has clearly been a driving force for national non-government organisations – notably Trees for Cities and the Woodland Trust – to really step up their efforts to chart the beneficial impacts of street trees and campaign for their retention.

And even charities that haven’t necessarily been known for their campaigning sides, from the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust to Butterfly Conservation, have stepped up to the plate to defend the city’s trees.

Tree tsar

And its has inspired new campaign groups around the nation – one that I’ve noticed being particularly active is South Tyneside Tree Action Group, but there are many more.

In Bristol, a similar campaign started in 2006 has taken a different path, with the council being far more cooperative and prepared to learn from civil society.

In the way of the media, the innovative, world-leading tree strategy that has emerged has got less media attention than the conflict in Sheffield, but it forms an important balance to it, showing what is possible.

The Sheffield case has galvanised the national media to look beyond South Yorkshire. The Sunday Times ran a huge piece including a league table of councils around the country and their record on street trees.

Michael Gove, seeing a groundswell when it rolled towards him, has even appointed a “tsar” with responsibility to protect street trees.

Legal expenses

The personal cost to campaigners in Sheffield has been high, but one of the rewards is to see a new national awareness of the value of street trees to human wellbeing, and new structures, institutions and practices, growing up to protect them.

In Sheffield we’ve lost thousands of healthy street trees, which cannot be replaced – and the council, despite slightly softer rhetoric, is showing no sign of getting the value of street trees. But the rest of the nation is.

We’re better off as a result. And Sheffield will have to catch up eventually – and there could even be a plaque in the town hall, beside the Kinder Trespass one, commemorating their efforts.

But in the meantime, again this week peaceful protectors are being taken to court by the council, which is trying to extend the injunction against them for a further three years.

If you’re grateful to what they’ve done please extend them a helping hand if you can. Legal expenses just keep adding up.

This Author

Natalie Bennett is a member of Sheffield Green Party and former Green Party leader.

https://theecologist.org/2018/jul/10/sheffield-tree-protectors-have-changed-nations-view-street-trees

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News

Injunction renewal hearing – 11th July 2018

SHEFFIELD HIGH COURT, 11 July 2018.

report by Sheldon Hall.

Undramatic scenes punctuated the inaction at today’s tedious non-hearing at Sheffield High Court. Boredom ran high as anti-climax followed breathlessly on anti-climax and non-event piled on non-event before culminating in irresolution.

No arguments and no evidence were submitted in court by Sheffield City Council, as it sought to extend and vary the current injunction against direct action at tree-felling sites. Instead, legal teams representing both the council and tree campaigners spent most of the day huddled in meeting rooms as they tried to thrash out a deal behind closed doors.

The hearing was due to start at 10.00am sharp. The four defendants challenging the new injunction application, along with three other non-signatories, plus SCC’s Paul Billington and Amey’s Darren Butt, were accordingly assembled with their respective legal representatives in court at that time. But nothing happened. Of the judge there was no sign.

Animated conversations broke out among the lawyers as they pointed to laptop screens and scribbled on notepads. Others present gathered in groups or pairs to chat idly while issues were discussed on their behalf. (All this was of course inaudible to public onlookers up in the gallery.) Then the various participants began disappearing to off-stage consultation rooms, until by 11.30am the courtroom was empty apart from its staff.

It was not until 1.00pm that everyone reconvened and Mr Justice Robinson took the bench, only to call a lunch break after ten minutes of procedure. Further waiting around followed the intermission, and it was exactly 4.23pm when the judge was called again. He dropped a strong hint that both parties should agree a ‘consensual compromise’ before the court reconvenes in the morning. And that was it.

Campaign supporters gathered in the public gallery were forced to speculate on what might lie behind SCC’s failure to make its case in open court.

Were the council’s legal advisers unsure of the legitimacy of their bid (available for scrutiny in publicly available documents) to restrict civil liberties to the point where residents would be forced to produce ID to gain admittance to their own homes, and so to stifle peaceful protest that the only valid opposition would take the form of private fantasy?

Or were they seeking to press home their proposed prohibitions on such freedoms as slow walking and to enforce their mania to include ‘natural boundaries’ like walls and railings within the definition of safety zones?

Perhaps we will find out tomorrow. Meanwhile, observers salvaged what stimulation they could from today’s non-event:

**Suspense** as Dave Dillner tried to complete his newspaper crossword.

**Spectacle** as Paul Brooke performed a spontaneous dance for the gallery.

**Colour** from defence counsel Paul Powlesland’s snazzily-patterned socks.

**Intrigue** as Paul Billington and Darren Butt read, apparently for the first time, the ‘We Want You to Complain [about Amey]’ leaflet.

**Shock** at the revelation that SCC’s counsel Katharine Holland QC is being paid £35,000 for a day and a half’s work.

The case continues. It might even get started.

 

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Posted in Court case reports, Court cases

Papers, please: Sheffield council to demand residents carry ID

After arresting middle-aged women for blowing plastic instruments and a vicar for assault with tambourine, Sheffield’s draconian policies are reaching a new low: next time private contractor Amey comes to fell a healthy tree, residents wishing to access their own property will be expected to show identification. Why is this happening in the erstwhile People’s Republic of South Yorkshire? Some background is in order.

Sheffield City Council, led by “Strong Leader” Julie Dore, has suffered some major blows in recent months over its contract with a private corporation to fell half the street trees in the city, regardless of need. It was forced to reveal that — despite denying it both to journalists and in court — it had inexplicably signed a contract which contained a contractual commitment to felling 17,500 trees (half the street trees in the city). Outrage has continued, and indeed grown, over its plan to fell the memorial trees of Western Road. The heavy-handed tactics used on peaceful protestors have shocked the city and indeed the world — especially as this grew to include dozens of private security and up to 30 police officers at time, while murders were committed elsewhere in Sheffield. It was no shock, then, that the Labour council lost seats in the May elections, and that the councillor with the most votes in the entire city was Alison Teal, whom they had tried to jail and who had previously won by only handful of votes.

After all this, the council appointed a new Cabinet Member for the Environment, Lewis Dagnall, to oversee the tree contract. Dagnall declared a desire for compromise with campaigners, and a determination to find a resolution that would remove the need for heavy-handed tactics. Briefly, it looked like things might be taking a turn for the reasonable.

But then we learned that the council had no plans whatsoever to scale back its heavy-handed legal approach. It sought jail terms for four tree protectors related to a civil injunction it was granted against certain forms of protest. The judge did not grant the council’s wish, but he convicted three of them, saddling them with heavy legal fees to pay.

And now this week the council — which supposedly seeks a compromise with campaigners — is attempting to extend the injunction for three years.If we take seriously the plan to fell half the street trees in Sheffield over twenty years, this really shouldn’t be shocking. In fact, we should confidently expect that the injunction will need to be extended over and over: it takes a long time to fell 17,500 trees that residents are willing to fight for.

The council is also seeking to broaden the injunction.Among other things, they want to be able to declare any pre-existing object to be a part of a barrier. They want to be able to erect barriers on park land, and keep people out so that they can more easily fell trees on the highway. And they want to be able to send people to jail for so much as suggesting on social media ways that one might seek to delay felling while a solution is sought.

Perhaps most shocking of all, the council has announced that they expect residents to show identification in order to access their own properties. By long tradition, people in the United Kingdom are not required to carry identification with them — what will happen when someone returns home from the shops to find barriers around their house? And what of children, carers, friends, cat sitters? The council does not seem to care.

Sheffield City Council is willing to impose a bizarre police state simply in order to fell trees that don’t need felling, against the wishes of residents and all expert advice — all in service to a 25-year contract with a private company. This is not what democracy is meant to look like.

Original article here :

https://medium.com/@jennifersaul/papers-please-sheffield-council-to-demand-residents-carry-id-5eb9a558dc38

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, Legal notices, News

Feedback from the University of Leicester street tree tour

Sheffield Street Trees and Heritage

“In May 2018 STAG members supported a visit to some of the key campaign sites – and iconic street trees – for a group of undergraduate students from Leicester University. These BA Human Geography students were taking part in a field course, ‘Heritage and Place’ in Sheffield. As one of the field course leaders, I was very keen that students had chance to engage with important aspects of environmental heritage and activism, which the STAG campaign epitomises. Through spending some time reading around the issues and walking around the streets with local campaigners the students were able to reflect critically on all sides of the argument, to better understand the value and importance of the trees to campaigners, and to appreciate incentives for and strategies of activism. They found these encounters challenging, inspirational and thought provoking. As well as informing them about the complexities of this specific case, the visit offered a really important lesson for them in thinking about place, heritage, emotion and environmental values – something they will carry forward into their future studies. Many thanks to the STAG members involved.”

– Dr. Caroline Upton, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Leicester.

 

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Judge dismisses council’s application to send Sheffield tree protester to jail – Yorkshire Post


Sheffield Council’s application to send an anti tree-felling protester to jail for contempt of court has been dismissed by a judge – with his ruling highlighting the chaotic scenes which unfolded between security guards and campaigners on a normally quiet city street.n anti Paul Brooke, co-chair of the Sheffield Tree Action Groups, had been accused of breaking a civil injunction which prevents protesters going inside ‘safety zones’ around trees due to be felled.

But Mr Justice Males dismissed the application on the grounds that Mr Brooke had attempted to enter a zone with a “genuine albeit mistaken” belief that a female protester was being injured by security guards attempting to remove her from the area around a tree on Meersbrook Park Road. He said the incident on January 22 had happened on a day of “considerable tension”, shortly after a security guard had thrown a punch towards another campaigner in a scuffle
Following the ruling, Mr Brooke said: “Apart from being relieved, I feel vindicated. I told the council in advance of the court case that I took the actions that I took in defence of another and that I was a good and honest citizen. The council decided to proceed against me anyway. It would appear that Justice Males has considered the facts and has decided that my actions were based on an honestly held belief that an assault was taking place.”

Mr Brooke, a self-employed joiner, and three fellow campaigners, university lecturer Simon Crump, French magician Benoit Compin and retired schoolteacher Fran Grace, had all been accused of breaching the injunction in five different incidents between December 2017 and March 2018
Sheffield Council was granted the civil injunction last summer, with Mr Brooke one of the named individuals to sign an undertaking not to breach it. The order was intended to stop campaigners preventing the removal of trees as part of the council’s highways maintenance contract with Amey by standing and sitting directly underneath those which were due to be removed.

Following a three-day hearing at Sheffield High Court earlier this month in which the council had applied to commit all four to jail for contempt of court, Justice Males found Crump and Compin had both breached the injunction twice and Grace once
The two men were given suspended prison sentences and the judge ruled no further action would be taken against Grace. All three are expected to face legal costs from Sheffield Council running into thousands of pounds, with the amount they need to pay yet to be determined
At the hearing, Justice Males said he required more time to consider Mr Brooke’s case.

A video played to court showed a protester with their face covered being removed from a safety zone by a number of security guards as they attempted to cling on to park railings and another person on the other side of the railings tried to hold on to their arms.

Moments after the masked protester started screaming, other people were seen on the video pushing at another metal barrier, which fell over. Mr Brooke was seen on the video swearing and kicking a barrier. A group of people then surrounded a threatened tree, forming a human chain around it
Yaaser Vanderman, the barrister representing the council at the hearing, said Mr Brooke had entered the safety zone in an “aggressive and violent manner” but Owen Greenhall, representing Mr Brooke, said his client “had a genuine belief the female protester was under attack”.

At a hearing in London today, Justice Males said he accepted Mr Brooke’s explanation of events.

“I accept his evidence that this was his belief and that he entered the zone in order to come to the protester’s assistance in some way to prevent her (as he saw it) from being further hurt,” the judge said.

“He acted instinctively and angrily on the spur of the moment, believing that this was necessary in response to what he had seen and heard. In all probability he had not formulated in his mind exactly what it was that he proposed to do, other than intervene to prevent what he thought was the likely rough and unjustifiable treatment of a female protester.”

The judge said he reject the council’s submission that the real reason Mr Brooke had entered the safety zone was to prevent the felling of a tree.
If that was what he wanted to do, he could have entered the zone at any stage. I reject also his submission that it did not matter to Mr Brooke whether the female protester had been assaulted.

On the contrary, it mattered a great deal to him,” the judge said.

Justice Males concluded: “I have found that in principle defence of another may provide a justification for entering a safety zone contrary to the terms of the undertaking by Mr Brooke; that Mr Brooke had a genuine albeit mistaken belief that it was necessary to do so in order to prevent immediate harm to a female protester; and that in the circumstances which existed on the day in question he did no more than was reasonably necessary in the light of the belief which he held.

“Accordingly the application to commit Mr Brooke must be dismissed.”

But the judge added: “It must be understood, however, that this decision is not a licence for future breaches of the injunction.

Two points must be kept firmly in mind.

The first is that it is lawful for reasonable force to be used to remove protesters from safety zones.

“The second is that, according to the evidence, when felling resumed after the events of January 22, 2018, the police took a much closer interest in attempts to remove protesters and officers would typically be stationed within a few feet of any removals to ensure that any force used was reasonable.

In such circumstances it is most unlikely that any intervention by entering into a safety zone would be reasonable.”

At the time of the incident, the use of security guards hired by Amey to help enforce the injunction by removing protesters from safety zones using “reasonable force” had only been in place for around a week.

In a 20-page ruling, the judge said the use of any force by security guards “was – and perhaps still is – highly controversial”.

He said prior to Mr Brooke’s arrival at the scene, there had been two incidents which he was then told about – one involving a masked female protester being removed in a way Mr Brooke believed to be “unreasonable” and the other involving a security guard punching a tree protester.

The judge said: “A film of this incident (which Mr Brooke did not see at the time) does show that a punch was thrown by one of the security staff. There was no evidence in the hearing before me about the circumstances which led to the punch being thrown and it is unnecessary to make any finding about it.

What matters is what Mr Brooke was told.” Justice Males added: “It is clear that this was a day on which feelings were running particularly high, with considerable tension, and with a view on the part of protesters that security staff were using excessive force.”

He said it was in this context that Mr Brooke reacted to a third incident as security guards attempted to remove a woman who was clinging to park railings in a bid to remain within the safety zone.

The judge said: “Another female who was in the park outside the zone held her other hand. The security staff attempted to disengage the protester from the railing by rocking her to and fro. As they did so, the woman holding her hand (who would clearly have let go if the protestor had wanted her to) began to chant in a loud voice, “don’t hurt her, don’t hurt her”.

There is no reason to suppose that the protester was being hurt at this stage. “The chanting was calculated to and did inflame the situation.

In immediate response to this chanting, another woman some distance away in the park ran up and seized the masked protester’s hand, pulling at it with some force.

“At this, the masked protester cried out in pain and let go her hand. The woman who had been holding her hand accused the security staff in a loud voice of bullying. In fact the reason – and in all probability the only reason – for the masked protester crying out in pain was the fact that her hand had been violently seized by the woman who had run up in response to the chanting.

A man was shouting “not revenge, not revenge”, which also had the effect of inflaming the situation.

“The security staff then attempted to escort the masked protester away from the railings, taking hold of her arms. However, she dropped to the floor face down, flopping deliberately as a deadweight in an attempt to prevent her removal. She was pulled under the arms a short distance by the security personnel, before being allowed to lie on the ground. The protester was then turned over onto her back by which time her upper clothing had ridden up to expose her midriff. One of her legs was underneath the other and a security man moved it so that she was lying on her back with her legs together.

“At one point a security man pulled the protestor as she was on the ground by the waistband of her trousers. In my judgment this at any rate was inappropriate, but it only lasted moments. However, the protestor was unharmed and was able to pull down her clothing to cover her midriff. Once the protester was lying on her back and had pulled down her clothing, it is apparent that the security staff realised that they would not be able to remove her from the safety zone. They ceased their attempt to do so and began to move away from her.”

The judge said Mr Brooke was some distance away from the incident behind the railings and had “concluded, wrongly, that this was the result of pain inflicted by the security staff attempting to remove her”.

“It made him extremely angry and he wanted to stop the security personnel from (as he understood it) hurting the woman further,” the judge added.

“Accordingly he pushed at the safety zone barriers. As he did so, one of the security staff standing by the barriers (not one of those involved in attempting to remove the female protester) kicked out at his hand. This individual did not give evidence, but it is hard to think of any justification for his action. In the event the barriers gave way to the pressure applied by Mr Brooke and, together with other protesters, he broke through into the now breached safety zone.”

The judge said a member of security staff attempted to calm Mr Brooke down, which did have some effect.

“However, he was still angry and upset. He swore at security staff but he made no attempt to proceed further into the safety zone as he could see that the female protester was on her feet and in no difficulty, and that she was being left alone. After swearing further at the security staff around him, Mr Brooke kicked out at the safety barrier which had been knocked over and stood on it, in his own words in evidence “behaving like an idiot”.

It is not suggested that he caused it any damage. After a short while he left.”

The judge said police officers who were present at the scene had not intervened.

“They appear to have been at some distance from the incident with the masked female protester and, so far as can be judged from the video evidence, do not appear to have been paying close attention to what was happening to her. Moreover Mr Brooke’s evidence, which I accept, was that he had spoken to the police liaison officer three days before this incident, who had said that police officers attending felling sites had been instructed only to observe. Certainly none of the police officers present on January 22 attempted to intervene.”

He said in the circumstances “the question whether what he did was reasonable must be determined by reference to the circumstances as he believed them to be, bearing in mind the perceived urgency of the situation and the vulnerability of the female protester as she lay on the ground.

“If, as Mr Brooke thought, she was about to be assaulted, there were only moments in which to act.”

Other campaigners, but not Mr Brooke, linked arms around the threatened tree and no further felling took place that day. Felling was paused for several weeks as a result of the incident and when it restarted in late February, dozens of police officers were sent out to support felling operations.

But the approach to felling was put on hold again in March following a national outcry against the use of large numbers of police officers and security guards in supporting operations.

A review into how operations are carried out in future remains ongoing.

A Sheffield City Council spokeswoman said today: “We believed the case was worth bringing to court but as with all cases – including the three where defendants were found to be guilty of breaching the injunction – we have always said the outcome is rightly a decision for Mr Justice Males, and not for the council.”

Original article here :

Read more at: https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/judge-dismisses-council-s-application-to-send-sheffield-tree-protester-to-jail-1-9215922

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