STAG Steering Group meeting: 26th June 2018

1. Notification of urgent felling by Amey
1.1. It had been working okay, but this week has not been working. There has been no notification about a number of trees in need of genuine felling or pruning.
1.2 Paul Brooke took an action to contact Lewis Dagnall and John Mothersole about this. It was another thing that was not helping to build trust.

2. STEEL and TreeSave
2.1 There is some confusion in SG about these sites run by Steve Andresier.
2.2 One site was originally called STIC, but is now called STEEL.
2.3 There is also a new separate group called TreeSave, which Steve has created with Rob McBride for street trees nationally.
2.4 It was agreed we should encourage the support of TreeSave, particularly as Rob McBride is involved, and monitor how STEEL performs.

3. Feedback from the STAG Facebook Group moderators
3.1 Abuse of the moderators privately and material that breaks the STAG Facebook group rules continues to be a headache for the Moderators.
3.2 It was noted that although rules for moderation were in place, the process for applying those rules and appealing against potential overzealous moderation were not fully formed.
3.3 It was again agreed that these need to be published and then if the rules were again breached by repeat offenders a potential serious long ban from the Facebook Group would be implemented.

4. The recent existing injunction court cases
4.1 There is no timescale for the costs to be awarded against those found guilty. It is normal to have a Cost Hearing which will take place when the Judge decides.
4.2 SG agreed to go back to our local groups and encourage people to start fundraising through whatever means they can.
4.3 A new Crowdfunder will soon be launched.

5. The potential for a new and extended injunction
5.1 Most of the individuals sent the new “threat” letter from the Council have met legal experts on Monday to discuss them.
5.2 It is a private matter for the individuals receiving the letter as to their next steps.
5.3 There may be further decisions that STAG Steering Group will need to make at some point in the near future dependent on the actions of potential injunctees.

6. Update on the Forestry Commission Investigation
6.1 Steering Group noted the story that was in the Yorkshire Post at the weekend.
6.2 There was discussion about any further steps that SG should take in the light of this turn of events and Chris agreed to consider these.

7. Update on the other proactive legal action
7.1 Paul S has been in discussion with the solicitors about these actions and updated SG.

8. STAG funds
8.1 Chris provided an update on the latest funding position.

9. Merchandising and Advertising
9.1 Shelley gave an update on the digital advertising campaign.
9.2 There are still some funds available for further actions in this area if needed.
9.3 Various other STAG Fun Branch initiatives have raised money with the majority of raised funds being donated back into STAG funds.
9.4 Shelley and Cecilie agreed to work together on next steps and Steering Group agreed that STAG funds could and should be used to “pump prime” any worthwhile merchandising or events proposals.

10. Refreshed STAG Press Group
10.1 Chris, Rebecca, Heather and Anne have spent time making an effort to put out press releases which seems to have made some impact.

11. Meetings with Cllr Lewis Dagnall
11.1 Despite Cllr Dagnall informally meeting lots of local groups and residents, he hasn’t arranged an official meeting with STAG reps since he joined the cabinet.

11.2 There hasn’t been any recent contact from John Mothersole either.
11.3 Chris and Paul B will contact Cllr Dagnall again this week to express our dissatisfaction at the lack of progress on talks, the continued erosion of trust the threat letters have caused, and the continuing silence after the earlier positive overtures John Mothersole had made in April.

12. Replacement Saplings
12.1 Heather very briefly updated all that, using Helen Kemp’s data, work was about to begin to check whether the replacement saplings are healthy, in the right place, of the right species etc, as concerns have been expressed.

13. SIA complaints
13.1 There was a brief discussion about the interplay of the strands of work on the SIA complaints and Police complaints.

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Posted in Minutes from official meetings

Detailed plans to remove 17,500 trees in Sheffield drawn up six years ago, ‘lost’ document reveals

Detailed proposals to replace exactly 17,500 of Sheffield’s 36,000 street trees were drawn up six years ago, a newly-published document the city’s council had previously said was lost has revealed. Sheffield Council said it had “stumbled upon” a series of strategy documents for the controversial policy of felling street trees after previously telling the Information Commissioner’s Office the information was “not held” in any form
Newly-discovered versions of a five-year tree management strategy have now been published online and the first version from 2012 – the year in which the contract with Amey under which the work is being carried out started – includes a chart detailing proposals to remove precisely 17,500 trees and replace them with saplings in seven areas of the city.

The ‘Highway Tree Replacement Plan’ table set out proposals suggesting that in south-east Sheffield 1,370 trees would be replaced, with 2,795 in the south of the city, 3,979 in the south-west, 2,103 in central Sheffield, 2,420 in the north, 2,939 in the north-east and 1,894 in the east. The figures add together to exactly 17,500.

The other newly-published published versions of the strategy for between 2013 and 2017 do not specify planned replacement numbers and the council has described the figures in the table as a “pre-contract estimate” that have since been revised.

The authority has faced national criticism for its controversial tree-felling policy and earlier this year it was revealed the £2.2bn 25-year highways maintenance contract work is being done under contains a clause stating trees should be replaced “at a rate of not less than 200 per year so that 17,500 are replaced by the end of the term”.

The council says the figure is not a contractual target but says it is unable to explain what the financial consequences will be should fewer than 17,500 trees be removed by the end of the contract with Amey in 2037 – and will not be in a position to do until that year.

A spokeswoman said in relation to the potential financial implications: “We are unable to predict what will happen between now and 2037 when the contract expires. Therefore, the council will not be in a position to answer this question until this time.”
The council previously confirmed to The Yorkshire Post in March this year that there would be a “financial adjustment” to the contract should fewer than 17,500 trees could be felled but said they could not explain whether the authority or Amey would be the beneficiaries as the contractor is not paid to replace individual trees.

The council said today that despite the wording of the contract and the emergence of the 2012 document that there is no target for tree replacement numbers.

A spokeswoman said: “While there has never been a target for street tree replacements, a pre-contract estimate was given by Amey in 2012 based on their initial surveys across the city to ensure that each and every tree replacement is absolutely essential and appropriate.

“The intention was always for Amey to revise their estimates after carrying out further assessments of the street tree stock and this is proved by the actual numbers replaced to date

“As stated in the High Court [by council officer Paul Billington] ‘it is impossible for Amey or the council to accurately predict how many trees will need replacing during the contract term because the number of trees to be replaced depends on a wide variety of factors’.

“Any suggestion that 17,500 trees is a target or a requirement is an incorrect interpretation of the contract, and indeed the High Court was clear that the objective of the council has been to retain trees where possible.”

A version of the tree management strategy was published by the council in early 2016 shortly before tree campaigner Dave Dillner went to the High Court to seek a judicial review of council decisions.

That document said there were six previous versions of the strategy in existence. But when campaigners fighting against the felling plans asked to see them under the Freedom of Information Act, the council initially rejected the request on the grounds they were “commercially sensitive” before later revising its position to say the information was “not held” in any form when the matter was taken to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

However, the council has now said the documentshave been found by chance.

A Freedom of Information officer said: “The council has now made any further concerted efforts to locate or identify whether this documentation was held as we did consider that copies were not retained or stored as they had not been identified in previous robust searches.

“However, unusually in this case the council has subsequently stumbled upon the previous versions of the strategy which were not previously identified. They have only come to light when these documents were individually opened and found to contain the earlier versions of the strategy.”

The newly-released documents also contain a different 2016 strategy to the one that was made public in the same year.

The previously-published version made detailed mention of engineering solutions to save trees that would be considered before they were removed while the newly-uncovered document does not.

A spokesman for Sheffield Council said “a simpler, more accessible version” of the strategy had been produced and published in 2016 “to aid public understanding”.

She said: “The engineering solutions in the public version of the document were included to try and give a better understanding of the type of work contained within the scope of the contract which could be used, where appropriate, to retain trees. For that reason, the approach to retaining trees is presented differently in the contractual document and then detailed, for public consumption, in the operation strategy.”

One of the newly-published documents is a revised strategy setting out the operational approach for 2018 to 2023 which also contains no mention of the engineering solutions.

The council said: “All of the engineering solutions detailed in the 2012 document are still considered to retain street trees.”

Councillor Lewis Dagnall, cabinet member for environment and street scene at Sheffield Council, said: “Transparency and openness around the Streets Ahead contract, and its associated documents, is incredibly important to ensure that the people of Sheffield stay well-informed about our programme of works.

“We recognise that there are some sections of the Highway Tree Management strategy that have changed over the years, which is to be expected on a contract of this scale. Nobody wants to see a working strategy document which fails to reflect the fluidity of a situation.

“It’s always a work in progress but what is certain is that we will always make sure the contract and the documents that inform it, are achieving the very best for the people of Sheffield.”

Tree-felling operations have been on hold in the city since March as the council and Amey review how work is carried out following growing protests and political pressure earlier this year after dozens of police officers and security guards were sent out to support operations.

Original article here:

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/our-region/south-yorkshire/sheffield/detailed-plans-to-remove-17-500-trees-in-sheffield-drawn-up-six-years-ago-lost-document-reveals-1-9271813

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News

Mary Marshall (Sarjeant) 1950 – 2018

by Sarah Deakin

Dear Friends

It is with a heavy heart that I share the sad news that Mary Marshall (Sarjeant) passed away peacefully in St Luke’s Hospice on Thursday 19th July following a short illness. She was 67.

Many of you will know Mary from her involvement in the campaigns to save Sheffield’s street trees (STAG and Save Crookes/Western Road/Walkley Trees), to restore local democracy (It’s Our City), and from STARTS (Street Tree Art Sheffield) sessions, which she loved to attend.

“Mary SarjeantMary was a staunch supporter of these and many other causes, and she worked tirelessly, often quietly behind the scenes. Her contributions cannot be underestimated and she will be sorely missed by many.

On a personal note, I met Mary under a threatened tree in Burngreave in early 2017 and we became firm friends. I’ll always remember her as the ‘no nonsense’ voice of reason, who absolutely lived life to the full, and was a huge force for good. I will miss her terribly, but have no doubt that she’s already on to her next adventure…

Rest in Peace, dear Mary
1950 – 2018.

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What does the new Injunction mean?

by Paul Brooke, STAG co-chair.

From the outset the legal advice to us was that the Council would be able to make an area around a tree to be felled subject to the Injunction and that the Persons Unknown definition was going to be extended to cover all aspects of the injunction terms.

“Geckoing”
Justice Males had indicated previously that ‘geckoing’ was not a ‘loophole’ but a correct interpretation of the wording originally used. He stated that in most ordinary circumstances one would assume that a 3 sided barrier using a garden wall as the fourth side adjacent to the pavement would be reasonable, but that the wording resulted in the need for a fourth barrier. We were advised that the Judge would accept this needed to change.

The new wording means that the Council can consider a private wall demarcates (shows you where the edge of the area is) the safety zone area and that you are prohibited from standing on any bit of the pavement up the private wall. Even if they use something to demarcate the private wall (barrier tape, cones, barrier or garden peas), getting behind that and being on the pavement may result in you being in contempt.

Persons Unknown
The new definition essentially means that a Person Unknown is someone who does any of the actions prohibited by the Injunction and is not a named defendant.

Delaying contractors
The proposed injunction prohibited any delay anywhere at anytime. This has now been limited to applying ONLY inside a legal road closure for more than 20 minutes. Delaying contractors anywhere else for any length of time is not a breach of the Injunction.

The wording is complex and and quite possibly open to much interpretation.

Private Land
“For the avoidance of doubt, actions taking place on private land only are not within the scope of this injunction.”
This means EXACTLY what it says.
Whatever anyone says, if its private land or something on private land- including the wall/fence/hedge demarcating part or all of the safety zone- the Injunction does not apply. We can still stand on and take any action on private walls etc.

Summary
We have certainly lost the ability to openly ‘gecko’ and Persons Unknown is now not limited but defined by the terms of the injunction.

I am writing this (doing this action in its entirety) whilst sitting in my house on private land and “For the avoidance of doubt, actions taking place on private land only are not within the scope of this injunction”

We can only deal with and prepare for the existing reality. Currently that is contained within the Court papers that specifies the 306 trees that ‘remain’ from the Core Investment Period cull are due for felling. Until we have something in writing that sets out a new reality from the Council, we prepare to continue to resist and defend our healthy trees.

Until we have a proper strategy and management plan for our urban forest for the next 20 years, none of them are safe in the hands of our Council.

P.S. Please avoid discussions on tactical ideas – use private messages and link with people you trust.

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Posted in Blog, Court cases, Legal notices

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 Blog, News, 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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Posted in Educational visits, News

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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Posted in Blog, Court cases, Healthy Felling, News

Sheffield Council pays £700,000 compensation bill for tree-felling delays – Yorkshire Post


Sheffield Council has paid £700,000 in compensation to its highways maintenance contractor Amey for work delays caused by its decision to set up an independent panel to advise on its controversial tree-felling strategy – whose expert recommendations to save trees were then mainly rejected.

A Freedom of Information response by the council to tree campaigner Neil Meadows has made public details of the payment, relating to the effect on work in 2017 as part of a 25-year PFI contract with Amey that started in 2012 and also involves road and pavement resurfacing work and the replacement of street lights.

It was revealed last September that the “knock-on” effect of waiting for the panel’s advice had contributed to delaying highways work that needed to be completed on more than 300 streets – despite the panel’s recommendations to save trees being ignored in 75 per cent of cases and felling going ahead against their advice.

The council had tried to claim in August it was facing “catastrophic financial consequences” because of protesters holding up tree-felling – only for it to subsequently be revealed that Amey rather than the council had to bear costs relating to demonstrations under the terms of the contract.

Work to remove thousands of street trees in the city and replace them with saplings has been on hold for more than two months following a national outcry against the policy after dozens of police officers and private security guards were sent to support operations in the wake of growing protests.

But the policy has been controversial for several years, with campaigners arguing that healthy trees were being felled unnecessarily.

Last year was the final 12 months of the ‘Core Investment Period’ relating to the first five years of the £2.2bn contract where the majority of work was due to be completed before the deal was supposed to move into a ‘maintenance’ phase. In November 2015, the council set up the ‘Independent Tree Panel’ in the wake of concerns from campaigners.

The process saw surveys sent out to residents living on affected streets and in instances where more than half of the residents raised objections about the proposals for trees, the plans were referred to the panel to make recommendations on whether felling should go ahead.

The panel’s work came to an end in July 2017. It was revealed last summer that on occasions where the panel had deemed trees could be saved, the council rejected the advice on 223 occasions and only accepted it 73 times – leading campaigners to describe it as a “sham consultation”.

The panel did agree with council proposals to remove a further 454 trees.

The new FoI response by the council to Mr Meadows said:

“The introduction of the Independent Tree Panel process by the council in 2016 triggered a Compensation Event under the terms of the Streets Ahead PFI contract as it caused delay to Amey’s programme.

“At that point Amey estimated that the cost of this delay would be approximately £5m. These costs were calculated to include the work of an additional subcontractor to catch up with delays to the programme of works, caused by the introduction of the ITP process. During 2017 the Council paid Amey £700k for delay costs and Amey undertook to re-programme works to mitigate all further costs associated with the delay.”

In August last year, the council won a High Court injunction banning protesters from standing directly underneath threatened trees to prevent them being felled.

At the time, an official statement from the then-cabinet member for environment Bryan Lodge said court action had been a “last resort” that was needed to stop protests and “avoid catastrophic financial consequences if the Streets Ahead work is not completed by the end of the year”.

But The Yorkshire Post subsequently revealed the Streets Ahead contract states Amey should bear the cost of any loss of income relating to protests and not the council.

The new FoI response confirms “Amey did not suffer any ‘financial consequences’ as the revised programme of works was completed within the required timescale”.

The FoI also states the council does not hold “any recorded information” relating to what Coun Lodge based his statement about “catastrophic financial consequences” on, who briefed him prior to the statement being made or any breakdown of potential costs that could have informed it.

No one from Sheffield Council was available for comment.

Original article here

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/sheffield-council-pays-700-000-compensation-bill-for-tree-felling-delays-1-9210254

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News

STAG Steering Group meeting: 22nd May 2018

Action Notes

1. Meetings with Councillor Lewis Dagnall
1.1 Two of the local groups have met Cllr Dagnall, following his public statements that he wanted to meet local groups.
1.2 Other groups reported that he hadn’t responded yet to emails.
1.3 All local groups were encouraged to push again to ensure they meet him.
1.4 He has a clear interest in history/heritage, for example, he was interested in the Vernon Oak being a historic Sheffield boundary tree.
1.5 Chris Rust and Paul Brooke then reported back from a meeting they had held late last week with him. They were surprised that he listened for the majority of the hour. This was a refreshing change from previous meetings with SCC.
1.6 Chris and Paul made a number of points to him as follows:

– It was very disappointing that the Council had chosen to pursue the breach of injunction cases against four people. As a consequence campaigners were inclined to pursue cases against the Council with renewed vigour

– The Council have said in statements that they want to draw a line in the sand around the history of the issue, however the campaign felt this was not possible, because so much of where we are at today are as a result of the past.

– Some home truths about Council Officers not telling the truth about certain issues (i.e. examples where public statements were clearly not the facts).

1.7 Cllr Dagnall listened intently to all of the above, and was clearly very interested to hear some of these things.
1.8 On the point about pursuing of the injunction cases in court, he said that this was solely the result of Council Officers following due process, and that elected Councillors couldn’t intervene. Some attendees made the point that in national government Civil Servants cannot take such significant decisions without a Minister’s approval. Ministers absolutely have the right to intervene to prevent individuals being taken to court.
1.9 There was a discussion about how we might pursue the Council about the above point.

2. Urgent Fellings
2.1 Chris had agreed with Darren Butt that he would give him three names, including Helen McIlroy’s. Amey would contact these three people with details of trees needing urgent fellings. It was agreed that the names would be Kaarina, Christine, Helen M, and potentially Helen Kemp. 2.2 Those three/four people would be responsible for receiving the information, contacting relevant experts (arborists and engineers) if needed for verification of the Amey claims, and then ensuring local groups were fully informed about whether the campaign should protest or not.
2.3 Chris promised to contact Helen, Helen, Christine and Kaarina today, and then let Darren Butt have these names.
2.4 The final details of the process would be worked through by the people above with Darren Butt and Amey.
2.5 Also, Steering Group were adamant that more notice needs to be given that what is being given currently.

3. Removal of Arborist’s picture from Facebook page
3.1 An Amey arborist has expressed his desire for a photo of him on the STAG Facebook page to be removed. He currently provides details of emergency fellings to STAG.
3.2 The photo was originally taken in 2017, when consent was given for the photo to be published on social media. It has been re-published multiple times since then, so is out there in multiple posts not just the recent post.
3.3 The Facebook group rules are clear, so long as original consent was given, and the post isn’t offensive, there is no reason to remove it. Privacy law is also clear. Once consent to publish photos is given, it can’t later be revoked.
3.4 Some SG members then challenged on the matter of goodwill. Would it not be a matter of goodwill in this specific instance to remove the latest photo.
3.5 The moderators and STAG Steering Group co-chairs had already discussed the matter and reached the consensus not to remove the photo. It was decided to confirm this decision.

4. Update on the STAG Facebook Group moderators
4.1 Nine moderators remain, after three left this week.
4.2 The nine are just about enough for the immediate future, but more are being identified and approached individually.
4.3 There was a long discussion about the fact that there were clear rules on Facebook, but no clear process for implementing these rules for the moderators to follow.
4.4 It was agreed that this process was needed.

5. Contract Rescission Judicial Review
5.1 Paul Selby updated everyone on the Judicial Review, including funding available. It is highly likely that we’ll send a Pre Action Protocol (PAP) letter in the near future.

6. Injunction obtained under false pretences?
6.1 This is something for which there is some potential evidence. Discussions took place on how this might be taken forward.

7. Injunction breach cases against four campaigners
7.1 Being held 5-7 June. There will be organised demonstrations outside of court each day.

8. Steve Andresier and STEEL Facebook group.
8.1 Steve has been organising the trip to Oxford to demonstrate outside Amey’s head office.
8.2 Paul Brooke undertook to speak to him about timing and how he organises support for this action.

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Posted in Minutes from official meetings

Final report from the Crown Court – 7th June 2018

You will by now know the verdicts in three of the four cases brought before the High Court in Sheffield this past week. But for the record, I conclude herewith my first-hand account of the trial with this summary of the third and final day of the hearings.

Disclaimer: this day’s proceedings are the most challenging to cover because they depended substantially on intricate legal argument, in which I cannot pretend to be an expert. My handwritten transcript will undoubtedly have oversimplified, skated over or omitted important details from the counsels’ submissions, especially in their references to arcane case law which was not readily accessible to those of us in the public gallery. Nevertheless, I hope to have got across the gist in layman’s terms of at least some of the key issues at stake. Corrections from other observers in the courtroom would be welcome.

Before continuing his final submissions begun on Wednesday, Yaaser Vanderman (acting for Sheffield City Council) raised several preliminary matters, including the possible disclosure to the judge of Facebook posts which he claimed showed that Benoit Compin knew of the injunction before 10 January. Mr Compin accepted that he breached the injunction by entering a safety zone for a total of three and a half minutes on Meersbrook Park Road (MPR) on that day. Counsel for the defence objected that such disclosure might prove unduly prejudicial, but Mr Justice Males stated that he would like to see all relevant materials before sentencing.

In a second incident, on Abbeydale Park Rise (APR) on 5 March, Mr Compin had been within a safety zone from at least 3.02pm to 3.50pm. He had attempted to prevent the removal from the zone of a female protester and had then climbed a tree, where he remained for some time despite the pleas of police officers to come down. He is heard on video evidence saying ‘I’m going to breach the injunction again’. This Mr Vanderman described as ‘a brazen admission of defiance’. The incident took place after Mr Compin had been notified that he had breached the injunction previously and after the sentencing of Calvin Payne and Alastair Wright for contempt.

The defence had argued that the particular tree on APR should not have been marked for felling. But Mr Vanderman said that the defence’s reading of Section 41 of the Highways Act was too narrow. He referred to the previous judgment of Mr Justice Gilbart that the lawful authority (in this case, SCC) has the right to remove trees as it sees fit. The tree was being removed to maintain the highway: ‘We say that’s the end of it.’ Mr Vanderman said that the defence had not submitted evidence that 30mm was not a significant deviation from the kerb line. The question of whether alternative engineering solutions could have been used to retain the tree was irrelevant to the injunction. There was no record of Mr Compin having previously objected to the felling of the tree – the proper approach would have been to approach the council.

Mr Justice Males noted that further growth of the tree potentially disrupting the highway in future was not a concern that had been recorded in the ITP report or the council’s final decisions. There was apparently no significant further growth in 2018 compared to 2016, when the decision to fell had been made. (He remarked that this might not be relevant to his judgment in the trial.)

Mr Vanderman then turned to the case of Paul Brooke, whom he described as a ‘long-time campaigner’ and ‘one of the major protagonists’ in the trees dispute. Mr Brooke was one of those who had signed an undertaking before the granting of the injunction and had later given evidence at the trial of Calvin Payne. His defence is that he entered a safety zone by breaking through a barrier because he believed that a masked woman protester was being assaulted by security staff.

Referring to the video evidence of the forcible removal of a masked female protester from railings on MPR, to which Mr Brooke said he was reacting, Mr Vanderman said that nothing in the clips was especially shocking. He said that Mr Brooke had entered the safety zone in an aggressive and violent manner. As a result of his actions, tree-felling had been suspended for a number of weeks.

Mr Vanderman referred to Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967, which states that ‘A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime.’ He said that security staff employed by Amey had been given extensive training and briefing in the use of reasonable force in this context. He argued that the methods and the amount of force used by them were reasonable, as shown by the fact that the removal of the female protester took only 30 seconds. As she was acting as a ‘dead weight’ when being carried away, security staff acted reasonably in rotating her and placing her down on the floor.

Mr Brooke’s defence was also based on Section 3. Mr Vanderman said that there had never been a *civil* case in which Section 3 had been entered or accepted as a defence. He noted there were some ‘novel’ legal points in play but that ‘On all legal authority Mr Brooke’s defence must fail’. There were a number of police officers in close proximity who could have acted if they thought a crime was being committed by the security guards. Their decision not to do so showed that they did not believe an assault was taking place. This, said Mr Vanderman, was ‘fatal’ to Mr Brooke’s defence: ‘There can be no defence of a breach of an injunction if the act was deliberately undertaken. If you do the act, that’s it.’

Mr Justice Males observed that the police officers in attendance were not especially close to the incident of the removal and did not appear to be looking in its direction. Mr Vanderman said that people had been complaining to the police so it could not be said that they were unaware of what was going on; they were close enough to the safety zone. He said that Mr Brooke did not deny that the police officers considered the force reasonable but that he proceeded to enter the safety zone anyway. Mr Brooke did not approach the female protester to ask if she was okay; other people may have been in the way but he did not even try. The judge noted that a security guard had done a ‘good job’ in calming Mr Brooke down and persuading him to leave the safety zone.

Mr Vanderman said that Mr Brooke’s action of lifting up the barrier was not the breach of the injunction, but rather his entering the safety zone. He should have let the police officers present do their job and not take the law into his own hands. Once the incident started he didn’t approach a single police officer; even if their backs were turned to the safety zone, they were still there. There was no sufficient nexus between entering the safety zone and the action of preventing a crime; at the time Mr Brooke entered, the woman had already been removed from the railings and was on the floor.

Mr Justice Males said that video evidence appeared to show that the potential assault to which Mr Brooke said he was reacting was over by the time he entered the zone. Would it be a defence that he had a *mistaken* belief in the possibility of an assault? The judge remarked that it would be ‘a bit harsh’ if the law said that someone had to stand by ‘and watch someone being beaten to a pulp’.

Defence

Opening his submissions for the defence of Simon Crump and Fran Grace, Paul Powlesland said that this case was not just being fought in the courts but in the council chamber and on the streets. Despite the assurance given to the court on Tuesday that SCC took responsibility for bringing the case, outside court it had said otherwise in order to avoid the political consequences. The question of who had authorised the prosecution of four campaigners had been raised in council by Dave Dillner on Wednesday. Mr Powlesland quoted council leader Julie Dore’s response and said that it proved that the decision to proceed was not taken by councillors but by council officers, even if she agreed with that decision.

At this point Mr Justice Males interrupted and asked Mr Powlesland to move on. He was satisfied with the assurance he had been given by the council. Mr Powlesland asked ‘But who is the council?’ The judge responded that if he didn’t know that he should look it up.

Mr Powlesland returned instead to the question of what constitutes a safety zone. The definition contained in the injunction is that it was an area surrounded on all four sides by barriers in order to create a safe working area. This latter part was crucial to the definition: the zone must have been created for this purpose. It could not just be barriers around a tree.

Mr Powlesland noted that Dr Crump had signed an undertaking to the court but Ms Grace had not. He recalled a previous discussion in which it was noted that the definition of a ‘safety zone’ specified in the injunction did not exist when Dr Crump and others had signed their undertaking, because the court order for the injunction had not yet been given. Mr Vanderman had argued that, in the case of those who had signed the undertaking, the ‘natural definition’ of a safety zone, one in which ‘natural barriers’ such as walls and railings counted as one side of the zone, should therefore apply.

Mr Justice Males noted that it would be ‘disorderly’ if two protesters standing side by side were under a different regime and were subject to different conditions because one had signed an undertaking and the other had not. The council was not proceeding against defendants on the basis that they had breached an undertaking but that they had breached the injunction, even though they were not ‘persons unknown’ but rather ‘persons known’.

Mr Powlesland said that on 16 January Dr Crump had been holding onto a railing in the gap between two barriers. The prosecution claimed that he had thereby prevented the erection of a complete safety zone. Mr Powlesland said that if Mr Vanderman’s previous suggestion about the distinction between two definitions of ‘safety zone’ were to be applied, Dr Crump could not be said to have prevented the erection of a safety zone under the definitions of the injunction because he was already in one under the alternative definition. The judge asked incredulously: ‘Are you suggesting that Dr Crump was in breach of his undertaking?’

Mr Powlesland said that it has often been the case that protesters have stood between railings and barriers, and work has still continued. This could have been done on this occasion. Amey workers have shown that they are willing to sacrifice standards to fell trees over the heads of protesters. If it had been anyone but Dr Crump standing beside the railings, they would have done that.

Mr Powlesland said there was no clear evidence to explain why the safety zone had been enlarged in the incident on 18 December. Arborist Jason Wignell’s evidence had been very confused and had given different explanations for the necessary size of safety zones. Mr Wignell had stated that a risk assessment was done for both the initial zone on MPR and the extended one, but a copy of neither risk assessment had been submitted in evidence. The lead arborist on 18 December, Dom Barrett, has not come forward to give evidence.

The result was that the defendants, Dr Crump and Ms Grace, had been confused. There had been previous occasions when Dr Crump and others had been told they were in breach of the injunction when in fact they were not. It was therefore reasonable for them to question the information they were given and to assume that the safety zone was not being enlarged for bona fide reasons. The bad faith that existed between the parties meant that rather than leave the zone when they were asked, they wanted more information. They wanted to pursue lawful, peaceful protest but this situation was one they had not encountered before.

There was constant flip-flopping from Amey about what constituted a safety zone and what protesters are allowed to do. Very wide powers had been given to a private company to exclude citizens from parts of their own city. People need to know in advance what they are and are not allowed to do, in order to undertake the most effective form of legal protest. Given the high standards of legal proof required, Mr Powlesland submitted that Dr crump and Ms Grace were not in breach of the injunction.

Owen Greenhall, opening his submission for the defence of Paul Brooke, said that his submission was based on Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967, which allowed citizens to use reasonable force to prevent a crime being committed, including the defence of another party. He said that the wording was clear and had to apply to alleged breaches of a court injunction. Mr Greenhall explained that duress should be defined by the urgency to act; ‘urgent action’ is close to the classic definition of self-defence.

Mr Greenhall said that it could be argued that following the use of reasonable force by Mr Brooke in pushing over a safety barrier in the course of defending another, the safety zone itself as defined by the injunction ceased to exist. He said that a belief that an assault was taking place should be both honest and reasonable, but that they were usually run together and that it would be odd to separate them.

At this point, proceedings were interrupted when Mr Greenhall’s mobile phone rang. Mr Justice Males observed drily: ‘There were judges who would say *that* was a contempt of court!’

Continuing, Mr Greenhall said that in criminal law it would be wrong to send someone to prison for using reasonable force so long as that person acted under a reasonable conviction. The sanctions for contempt were likely to be higher than for criminal proceedings.

He said it was not necessary for someone in Mr Brooke’s position to reach a *correct* conclusion about what was happening – two people in the same position might have reached different conclusions – but it was enough to show that he had reached a *reasonable* conclusion in the circumstances. Mr Brooke himself might have done something different on a different occasion. Mr Greenhall said that if the judge did not agree that this was a valid defence in law then he would like to submit it in mitigation.

Moving from legal argument to the facts in Mr Brooke’s case, Mr Greenhall said that it was clear the defendant had a genuine belief that the female protester was under attack – the strongest evidence for this was the video footage, in which Mr Brooke was plainly and manifestly concerned. With the information he had received that day that security guards were manhandling protesters and the video footage he had seen which supported that information, Mr Brooke had formed the opinion that security staff were prepared to cause significant pain to female protesters. What was relevant was not whether the security guards were in fact using reasonable force but what Mr Brooke perceived and the opinion he formed and that it was a genuine and reasonable belief that a woman was being assaulted.

Mr Greenhall said there was no evidence in the video footage to show that security guards made any effort to check that the protester on the ground was okay. It looked to Mr Brooke like she had been assaulted and was about to be assaulted further by a guard standing on her or kicking her. As soon as Mr Brooke realised she was okay, he left the safety zones. He did not join other protesters who formed a ring around the threatened tree.

Mr Greenhall said that Mr Brooke is not someone who advocates direct action, as proven by the fact that he has not acted similarly on other occasions. Nor is he abusive towards security staff – as shown in the video evidence, they know him by name. As to the police, Mr Brooke had been told earlier in the day by officers that they were taking a hands-off approach. It does not follow that because of their failure to act they didn’t think an assault was taking place. It was their inaction that prompted him to act. He conveyed that he was not happy with the situation by his facial expression seen in the video footage and his use of profanities in a manner that was out of character. Mr Justice Males commented: ‘I think he succeeded in conveying that he was not happy.’

Turning to the case of Benoit Compin, Mr Greenhall said that he would concentrate on the legal argument for the incident on APR as Mr Compin had admitted breaching the injunction on MPR. He argued that in the case of the particular tree Mr Compin was defending, Section 41 of the Highways Act (concerning the council’s duty to maintain the highways) was not engaged. Contrary to SCC’s reasons for choosing to fell the tree, the engineering solutions needed to retain it were covered in the PFI contract. A deviation from the kerb line of approximately an inch was not significant – Mr Greenhall said there must be hundreds or thousands of instances of kerbstones with similar deviations around the city where trees are not marked for felling.

Mr Greenhall said there was no evidence of any sustained examination of the rate of change of the tree growth. There was a question therefore of whether the works around this tree should be included within the injunction. In a criminal case a defendant had the right to query an administrative mistake that had led him to court; this principle should apply to a civil case as well.

Responding to Mr Greenhall’s submissions, Yaaser Vanderman said that the key issue with Paul Brooke was his state of mind. Mr Brooke accepted that he was far away from the incident with the female protester and could not see the detail of events, but Mr Vanderman said that contrary to his evidence his state of mind was one of ‘blind indifference’ to what was happening to the woman. Mr Vanderman described the notion that all four police officers on duty turned their backs to the incident as ‘unreal’: the whole purpose of their being there was to observe.

Judgment

Mr Justice Males said, in his characteristically understated manner, that he found the cases against Dr Crump, Ms Grace and Mr Compin to be proved. He reserved judgment on Mr Brooke until a later date because there were points of law that he needed to consider.

Mr Vanderman read out Facebook posts from Mr Compin, referring to posts from Calvin Payne and Alastair Wright, which demonstrated his knowledge of the injunction and willingness to break it. He also showed the judge a photo of Mr Compin sticking up two fingers, indicating his attitude of defiance.

The defence moved to pleas in mitigation. Mr Powlesland said of Ms Grace that there was no evidence of any other breaches of the injunction, or of attempted breaches. She had attempted lawful peaceful protest on other occasions. This breach was not deliberate or planned – she came prepared to stand outside of a safety zone as she had previously done. She remained within the safety zone for between three and ten minutes – a very short time indeed. This had little to no impact on delaying a felling or the tree-felling programme. She was acting on the advice of Dr Crump and was clearly not a ringleader or organiser. Whether she was aware of being in breach should have an impact on sentencing. She was an honest and genuine witness – she was evidently confused in the video footage, was asking for clarity and got none. This put her at the low end of the spectrum of seriousness.

Mr Powlesland said that much the same applied to Dr Crump. He did not plan to breach the injunction by entering a safety zone but found a zone built around him. In the second incident, Dr Crump aimed to delay a felling without breaching the injunction. He believed ‘geckoing’ to be a lawful, generally accepted way of protesting without breaching the injunction. With reference to Dr Crump’s Facebook post, the wording and punctuation were crucial – on previous occasions he had been correct in not being in breach of the injunction when told that he was. If the judge was minded to give a custodial sentence then a suspended sentence would be appropriate – Dr Crump was a man of previous good character.

Mr Greenhall submitted that any sentence for Benoit Compin should also be suspended. In the first incident he was inside a safety zone for a total of three and a half minutes and caused minimal or no delay to felling. Mr Compin accepted that he was aware of the injunction though not of its specific terms. He had been in France at the time he made his first Facebook post in October. Mr Greenhall noted that people on Facebook communicated with like-minded others and sometimes made statements which went beyond their actual intentions.

In the second incident, Mr Compin believed he was standing up for people in general. It was not a pre-planned incident – what prompted his actions was concern for an elderly female protester with multiple sclerosis. Nothing in the judgment should take into account Mr Compin’s actions towards security guards, which are the subject of a separate legal hearing. In the wake of this he was upset and used language he was not proud of. Mr Compin was aware of how his actions had brought him to the court and he would not do anything to bring him there again.

There was then a short recess of around 20 minutes before the judge returned to pass sentence on the three defendants found guilty of contempt. The full judgment has been posted on this page so there is no need to report it in detail here. In summary, Simon Crump and Benoit Compin were each sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, suspended for one year. In Fran Grace’s case, the fact of being found in contempt was held to be sufficient punishment. All three were persons of good character. Mr Justice Males concluded by thanking those in the public gallery for their quiet and respectful attention to the proceedings.

After the judge rose and left the courtroom, observers in the public gallery stood up to applaud the defendants down below. Outside the courtroom in the waiting area and again outside the court building, other supporters applauded and hugged them as they emerged.

Technically, the three defendants had lost. Morally, it felt like a victory.

– reporting by Sheldon Hall.

 

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#saveshefftrees #TreeTruths – Jeremy Barrell

Sheffield #TreeTruths 14: Amey tree expert says “canopies can trap pollution at pavement level”. Scaremongering, I’m afraid. If that really is relevant, then why has Singapore been cramming its streets & highways full of trees for the last 40 years? #SaveSheffTrees @shftelegraph

Sheffield #TreeTruths 13: Amey tree expert says “engineering solutions to try to retain a mature street tree will often compromise its shallow roots”. If that really is true, then why are so many other cities managing to keep mature trees then? #saveshefftrees

Sheffield #TreeTruths 12: Professionals outside arboriculture are not interested in Sheffield’s tree felling programme? Oh, I think they are, evidenced by 10,000+ international environment professionals reading ‘The Environment’ this week. https://t.co/e9rGw9Dhhu #SaveSheffTrees https://t.co/0pOtZs0kP5

Sheffield #TreeTruths 11: Felling will always be the last resort? Sorry, not in Sheffield. I have seen hundreds of situations where tree could have been retained and were not. #SaveSheffTrees https://t.co/mhwJSnNoAV

Sheffield #TreeTruths 10: Felling heritage trees planted 90+ years ago in memory of WWI dead can be mitigated by planting new trees in parks? No, No, No. Get a grip. It is the physical link to the past and bridge to the future that is of value, not a label!

Sheffield #TreeTruths 9: Street trees make pollution worse not better? Really, that’s not what the bulk of the high quality research suggests! If that’s true, then why has Singapore spent decades lining its streets with millions of trees?

Sheffield #TreeTruths 8: Replacing felled street trees in nearby parks is adequate mitigation? No, I don’t think so, and neither do the researchers. The evidence shows that trees are most effective at buffering pollution right next to it, not remote from it.

Sheffield #TreeTruths 7: 80 year old trees are at the end of their life? Sorry, I don’t think so. In this photo (c1933), the tree is about 70 years old, but someone decide to keep it, not fell it. 85 years later, 3 generations have enjoyed the benefits.

Sheffield #TreeTruths 6: All removed street trees will be replaced? Not in Chatsworth Road so far! Canadian urban forest specialist, Philip van Wassenaer, stands on new tarmac where a mature lime once stood, similar to those in the background.

Sheffield #TreeTruths 5: A zero tolerance approach to displaced kerbs or surfacing is a valid reason to remove healthy street trees? Sorry, no its not, according to the government endorsed UK Roads Liaison Group Code of Practice!

Sheffield #TreeTruths 4: @hortweek explains how CAVAT is a credible way of valuing street trees. https://t.co/GCKIauKEV8. Sheffield City Council should read this before felling commemorative trees in Western Road. They are at the top end of the value spectrum.

Sheffield #TreeTruths 3: Trees make places nice to live in and people proud of their communities. This is Sheffield City Council’s approach to place making. There is no credible technical justification for this type of management.

Sheffield #TreeTruths 2: Street tree management in Sheffield is a local issue? I don’t think so! The industrial scale felling of healthy street trees being implemented by Sheffield City Council is unique and it has a big international profile.

Sheffield #TreeTruths1: Tree roots damage services? – I have seen no evidence in Sheffield. Trees rarely damage services, evidence is thousands of street trees in Sheffield not doing so, & millions around the world coexisting with services.

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News

How court case raised political stakes in Sheffield tree-felling saga – Yorkshire Post

Sheffield Council has won a critical legal battle against anti-tree felling protesters – but the political stakes in the saga have been raised once again. Chris Burn reports.

As Mr Justice Males convicted a retired primary school teacher, a university lecturer and a French magician for breaching a court-ordered injunction banning ‘direct action’ protests against the controversial felling of thousands of street trees in Sheffield, his decision appeared to vindicate the city council’s decision to bring legal action against the campaigners. But the jury remains out on what the verdict will be in the court of public opinion.

Tree felling works are currently on hold across Sheffield.

While large parts of the three-day hearing at the High Court in Sheffield that finished yesterday afternoon were taken up with technical discussions of legal precedents and what precisely constitutes a ‘safety zone’ – the area around a tree due to be felled that protesters are barred by the terms of the injunction from entering – a greater political drama was unfolding at the same time outside the courtroom.

Just a week before the case, Councillor Lewis Dagnall, the new man in charge of overseeing the council’s tree-felling strategy, who had arrived in post in May with a promise of ‘compromise’ with campaigners following bruising local election results for Labour in areas of the city most affected by the policy, told BBC Radio Sheffield there was nothing he could do to stop the proceedings progressing as he was “insulated from the legal process” and had not been involved in a decision made by council officers.

But on the hearing’s first day on Tuesday, the judge insisted on knowing if the legal action seeking to commit four protesters to prison for contempt of court was being supported by the council’s Labour leader, Julie Dore, as he wanted reassurance “this application is brought on the instructions of democratically-elected councillors”.

In contrast to Coun Dagnall’s remarks, Yaaser Vanderman, the barrister representing the council, said while the ultimate decision rested with the council’s legal director, “there will have been input from the relevant council members, including the leader”. He then clarified that Coun Dore had “positively agreed” that the proceedings be brought and was “happy” with them taking place.

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore

In the following days, Coun Dore has faced mounting political condemnation for her involvement in the decision, most notably by members of her own local party.

On Tuesday night, the city’s Crookes and Crosspool Labour party branch passed a motion that noted “with dismay” her involvement with the decision and called for legal action to be halted. Yesterday morning, Lee Rock, part of the branch’s executive, addressed tree campaigners outside court to reiterate the condemnation. He said: “The final straw for us was this week when the judge asked if the Labour council are supporting these injunctions and the potential imprisonment of citizens of Sheffield. We don’t accept, as socialists in the Labour party, a Labour council that seeks the imprisonment of protesters.”

The Sheffield Not-For-Profit branch of the Unite union also condemned the move, saying “no senior Labour Party figure should ever endorse the imprisonment of protesters fighting for justice”. On social media, several local Labour party members shared resignation letters they had sent the party over the issue.

Coun Dore also came in for fierce criticism from opposition councillors during a stormy council meeting on Wednesday, as she reiterated her support for the legal action while insisting the decision had been made independently of her.

Following the verdicts last night, Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Liberal Democrat group in Sheffield, said the decision to pursue the prosecutions showed it was “business as usual at the council” despite the recent promises of compromise and a change in direction.

“What we thought was an olive branch turned out to be a prickly stem,” he said. “We’ve seen a council determined to punish people who don’t agree with them.”

The issue of tree-felling in the city has been a thorn in the side of the council’s Labour administration following years of growing protest, with thousands of people now members of what is known as the Sheffield Tree Action Groups. Campaigners believe healthy trees are being unnecessarily felled for contractual reasons.

Last summer, Sheffield Council, which has insisted trees are only removed as a ‘last resort’, decided to pursue civil injunctions to prevent protesters standing directly under trees due to be felled as campaigners used the tactic successfully. In June 2017 alone, 329 of 427 attempted tree-felling operations had to be abandoned.

But the imposition of the injunctions in August last year was not the success the council hoped for as protests continued. Private security guards hired by Amey were brought in to enforce the order and, following heated clashes in January, felling was temporarily halted. It started again in February, with a greatly increased police presence seeing dozens of police officers sent out each day alongside the security team to oversee operations.

Growing protests followed, along with multiple arrests – most notoriously including a woman who had been blowing a toy trumpet at a demonstration.

At the same time, new revelations about the contract, including the existence of a previously-unknown target to replace 17,500 of the city’s 36,000 street trees, came to light. The council say the figure merely represents a form of insurance to provide ‘financial cover’ should that many trees need to be removed in the event of an outbreak of disease and the true number is more likely to be about 10,000. But it is unable to explain how a ‘financial adjustment’ that it says will take place at the end of the contract if fewer than 17,500 trees are felled would work in practice and whether it or Amey would benefit.

The situation brought national condemnation from figures as diverse as Environment Secretary Michael Gove and former Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker and in March, work was put on hold once again to allow a review of how work is carried out to take place.

As Justice Males ruled that three campaigners – ex-teacher Fran Grace, lecturer Dr Simon Crump and street artist Benoit Compin – had broken the terms of the injunction, he said that while he expressed no view on the merits of the tree-felling programme, the rule of law must be upheld. The judge added he “would have been uneasy if an application was being made on behalf of the council to commit citizens of Sheffield to prison without the support of democratically elected councillors”.

But he also noted that while the situation has “excited some very strong emotions”, two council elections since 2016 have returned a majority of councillors who support the work and that the authority’s leadership – and their controversial tree-felling programme – are ultimately “accountable to the people of Sheffield through the ballot box”.

Council legal director welcomes judge’s ruling

The judge’s decision to convict three tree campaigners for contempt has been welcomed by the council’s legal director.

Simon Crump and Benoit Compin were handed suspended prison sentences, with no further action taken against Fran Grace. A fourth case, involving a man called Paul Brooke, is yet to be decided.

Council legal director Gillian Duckworth said: “Three individuals have chosen to break the law by ignoring a lawful order.

“It is regrettable that by undertaking these actions, the individuals concerned have endangered not only their own safety, but also the safety of workers and the general public.

“The decision to break the law was one made by those individuals in full knowledge of the potential outcome.”

Original article:

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/how-court-case-raised-political-stakes-in-sheffield-tree-felling-saga-1-9198330

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News

Second report from the Crown Court – 6th June 2018

It’s official: geckoing is not, repeat *not*, a legal loophole. Mr Justice Males made the point emphatically, implicitly agreeing with STAG co-chair and defendant Paul Brooke that it is a legitimate way for tree campaigners to protest without breaching the injunction.

The judge’s remark was made in response to prosecuting counsel Yaaser Vanderman, towards the end of the second day of hearings in the trial of Mr Brooke, Benoit Compin, Simon Crump and Fran Grace for alleged breaches of the injunction forbidding the intrusion of protesters into safety zones surrounding tree works.

Owen Greenhall, acting for Mr Brooke and Mr Compin, continued the cross-examination of security guard Richard Milligan, who agreed that the principal function of security staff was the physical removal of protesters from the area of a tree felling rather than the infliction of pain: ‘You said that if a person was crying out in pain the first response would be to check that they were okay.’ The aim was to use minimal force and to reduce the risk of injuries.

In his written affidavit Mr Milligan had mentioned guards using a rocking motion to extract protesters rather than a sharp jerk, which had a greater risk of injury. He agreed that if someone was carried out as a ‘dead weight’ then it would be appropriate for four guards each to take hold of a limb. ‘But you wouldn’t punch anyone?’ No. Mr Greenhall then showed the video clip, previously played yesterday, which appeared to show a security guard throwing a punch during a fracas. Mr Milligan had not been involved but had been standing beside the evidence gatherer shooting the video. He said that he could not be sure that the clip showed a punch being thrown.

Mr Greenhall said that one female protester on Meersbrook Park Road (MPR) had been removed from park railings twice. On the second occasion, her cries of pain had led bystanders including Paul Brooke to break through the barriers surrounding the safety zone. Mr Greenhall showed a harrowing video clip of three security guards attempting to remove the woman, one by apparently lifting her up with his shoulder. A voice could be heard shouting to police off camera: ‘Officers, you’re witnessing an assault!’

At this point, Mr Justice Males interrupted proceedings to relay a report passed on to him from a barrister not involved in the case, who had witnessed the apparent intimidation of council officer Paul Billington in the waiting area outside the courtroom. The judge said that the intimidation of a witness about to give evidence was a serious matter and could itself be considered a contempt of court. A short recess was called to deal with this. When the hearing reconvened, Mr Vanderman stated that Mr Billington had not been aware of the report and that the alleged intimidation was nothing more than he was used to. Nevertheless, the judge stated that if the offence was repeated he was prepared to exclude the public from the building; he didn’t want to do this as he believed in open court, but the press were sure to report the matter.

Resuming his cross-examination of Mr Milligan, Mr Greenhall showed further video footage of the removal of the female protester from the MPR railings. He pointed out that the clip showed sharp tugs being used, not a slow rocking motion as Mr Milligan had described in his affidavit. Mr Greenhall also noted that several other security staff, including a female guard, had been standing nearby as the protester was carried away; surely they could have been employed to pick her up bodily rather than dragging her? Mr Milligan replied that he would have said they were placing her on the ground rather than dragging her.

Paul Billington then took the stand. Before admitting him to the courtroom, the judge reminded the public gallery that there must be no audible reactions to his evidence. Anyone who felt unable to comply with this should leave.

Mr Vanderman referred to the decision to fell a tree on Abbeydale Park Rise (APR) that was displacing the kerb by approximately 30mm. Mr Billington said that this was not a decision he had taken (it had been made by his predecessor, Simon Green) but one that he supported. The particular species of tree (Wild Cherry Woodstock) had an expected rate of growth of 10mm per year, so it was likely that any remedial work done on the kerb would have to be repeated in a year or two’s time. Replacing the tree with a similar species but with a slower rate of growth would give the chance of a tree with a long-term future.

Paul Powlesland, acting for Simon Crump and Fran Grace, asked Mr Billington for his definition of a highway safety zone and whether it could be erected for any reason other than to provide a safe working area. Mr Billington said that SCC and Amey’s mistaken understanding of what constituted a safety zone (that it did not include natural boundaries such as walls and park railings) had been cleared up at a previous hearing and that since then they had been adhering to the definition specified in the injunction.

Mr Powlesland drew Mr Billington’s attention to a photograph of a warning sign displayed on MPR and asked him several times if he would agree that it gave an incorrect version of the injunction wording: yes or no? (Mr Justice Males interjected to ask him to keep his voice down.) Mr Billington said that he did not recognise the sign and was not qualified to say whether its message was within the terms of the injunction: ‘If I said yes or no I’d be guessing.’

Mr Powlesland asked if Mr Billington agreed that when Amey staff say people are in breach of the injunction, protesters were within their rights to challenge them over their confusion regarding the injunction. Mr Billington said that was not aware of any confusion. There was some confusion over whether it was tree workers or tree campaigners who were confused. Mr Powlesland said that it was Simon Crump’s case that he had been confused about the extension of a safety zone. Mr Billington said that Dr Crump had been involved in the campaign from the beginning and so ‘the chances of him being confused about anything are amongst the lowest of anything in this case’.

Mr Powlesland referred to a matter discussed in a previous hearing in October, in which he had cross-examined Mr Billington over the contents of an erroneously-worded letter distributed to a number of campaigners standing in Meersbrook Park, outside of safety zones, and whether it could be construed as threatening. Mr Powlesland promised not to go there again, drawing a wry smile from the council officer, but noted that it was an example of why campaigners such as Dr Crump and Fran Grace could not take the word of SCC, Amey or Acorn because of inconsistencies in information previously emanating from them.

Mr Powlesland then referred to Mr Billington’s statement in the original injunction hearing that only 6,000 trees were to be felled. Mr Billington insisted that he been referring only to the Core Investment Period, and that previous as well as subsequent council statements and press releases had made that clear. He had never meant to suggest that 6,000 was the total number to be felled in the entire contract term.

A slide was presented showing clause 6.38 in the Streets Ahead contract specifying 17,500 trees to be felled. Mr Billington said that he could see how the contract could be interpreted to imply a target of that figure but that it was not the case. Bids for the contract had been made on the basis that up to that many trees could be replaced if necessary, without additional cost to the council. This was standard contacting procedure. But no discussions had taken place regarding any such target: ‘It doesn’t exist.’

Mr Billington did not know and could not say how many trees would be felled over the course of the contract but 10,000 was the ‘best guess’. He said that it could be argued that it might be in Amey’s best financial interests to replace less than the maximum figure, and that at some point the council might want to discuss that – ‘but that’s in 20 years’ time’. Mr Powlesland said that citizens of Sheffield wanted to know how such decisions were being made *now*. The council had not released its annual Tree Management Programmes – Mr Billington said he hoped they would be.

Mr Greenhall wanted to discuss the decision made to replace one particular tree, situated between house numbers 22 and 24 on APR. The Independent Tree Panel advice for this tree was as follows: ‘Remove 2 kerbs and replace 2 kerbs with dropper. Narrow footway by 150mm over 15m. Remove and relay 15[m] of stone edging. Proceed with engineering solution and associated work if funds available.’ However the council’s final judgment was to remove and replace it.

Mr Greenhall said that the displaced kerb was not inconveniencing members of the public. Mr Billington noted that the Streets Ahead contract specifies no undue deviation from a straight kerb line, a principle he upheld: ‘As a cyclist, I wouldn’t want *any* deviation.’ He said that he spent a lot of time cycling close to kerbs and wouldn’t want his name against a decision that could cost a human life.

Mr Greenhall said that the ITP had proposed engineering solutions to retain twelve healthy trees on APR and that the same decision had been made for all of them. Following a ‘tree walk’ on APR with Amey representatives, a resident had asked why so many trees were being felled and was told that there was no ‘appetite’ at SCC for the use of engineering solutions and that the council preferred replacement. Mr Billington said that instead of ‘appetite’ he would substitute ‘ability‘, as the ITP recommendations involved, ‘at least in part’, bespoke engineering solutions sitting outside the contract that would require additional funding that was not available: ‘If an exception was made in the case of one tree you would find yourself making them in many cases.’

Mr Greenhall said that a mistake had been made in the decision-making process in consideration of this particular proposal. Mr Billington: ‘I reject that.’

‘This is a highway renewal contract, not a patch-and-mend contract.’

Opening the case for the defence, Mr Powlesland called Simon Crump to the witness stand. He corrected a typographical error in his affidavit, in which a photograph of a warning sign had been mistakenly identified as having been taken on 15 January rather than 16 January.

Mr Vanderman said that he was a committed campaigner. 
Dr Crump: ‘I would say more of a keen amateur.’ 
Mr Vanderman: ‘You say “committed” in your written evidence.’ 
Dr Crump: ‘Oh dear.’ 
Mr Vanderman: ‘You have sat under countless trees and have attempted to frustrate tree felling.’ 
Dr Crump: ‘I don’t accept that. I’ve attempted to delay it.’
Mr Vanderman: ‘Until… what? Someone else comes along.’ 
Dr Crump: ‘No. I want to delay felling so the two parties can get together and negotiate a sensible solution.’
Mr Vanderman: ‘You intend to go on entering safety zones?’
Dr Crump: ‘Absolutely not.’

Mr Vanderman referred to a message Dr Crump had posted on the Facebook page last week in which he said that he did. Dr Crump drew your attention to the inverted commas he had placed around ‘safety zones’: ‘I would caution you not to get excited about it and remind you that I have a PhD in English literature. I choose my words and my punctuation very carefully. I used inverted commas to refer to *fake* safety zones.’ Mr Vanderman noted that the post had soon been deleted from the STAG Facebook page and suggested that Dr Crump had deleted it because he knew it would affect the case. Dr Crump could not be sure whether it was he or the page moderators who had deleted it.

Mr Vanderman referred to the incident involving Dr Crump and Fran Grace on MPR. Dr Crump: ‘It felt to me that we were standing outside of the safety zone and no-one explained to us why we were not. It felt like entrapment – they were trying to get us on something.’ Mr Vanderman said that a trap allows entry but not exit. Mr Justice Males said that there were two senses of ‘trap’: to be stopped from leaving or to be tricked into breaching the injunction. Which sense did he mean? ‘The second one.’

Mr Vanderman showed video footage of the incident and said that Dr Crump and Ms Grace had been asked to leave a total of eight times. Dr Crump said that he did not count them – the experience had been quite stressful. Mr Vanderman: ‘You could have left the disputed area at any point during those five minutes.’ He pointed out that Dr Crump had been talking to Calvin Payne on the other side of the fence, who had not been ‘drawn in’ to the area because ‘he knew a safety zone was being erected’. Mr Powlesland’s objection to this speculation was upheld by the judge.

Dr Crump said that he and other campaigners had been lied to continually by SCC and Amey; ‘they should get the wording of the injunction straight and stick to it.’ Dr Crump said he had been genuinely confused as to what was happening. ‘It was the first time they had tried this particular tactic. I also believed it was not a proper safety zone – you can hear me saying that.’ He had been ‘confused by the lies they have told us over weeks and months – they will tell us anything.’

Mr Vanderman: ‘Not once did you ask the question why the safety zone was being enlarged.’
Dr Crump: ‘I was hoping they would tell me.’

Mr Vanderman referred to the later incident on MPR: ‘I was standing near the railing with my arm around the railing, some distance from the tree.’ Mr Vanderman says that Darren Butt had asked him to leave: ‘Because it wasn’t a complete safety zone, I refused.’ Two other campaigners who had linked arms with him decided to leave the zone but he stayed. He denied having prevented the erection of barriers, which could have been placed in front of him as they had been ‘on many previous occasions’. Mr Vanderman asked why he was holding onto the railings: ‘Because people are removed, sometimes violently.’ This had happened the same day further down the street.

Mr Vanderman: ‘You knew they wouldn’t fell the tree with you standing there.’
Dr Crump: ‘No, there was a car there. It was part of the deal’

Mr Justice Males refers to the undertaking that Dr Crump had signed not to participate in direct action. Dr Crump: ‘Which is very similar to the injunction. I signed it in good faith and take it seriously. As far as I am concerned I have not broken the injunction.’

Fran Grace (who will be 68 on Friday) next took the stand. Mr Vanderman pointed out that she is a former primary-school teacher and asked if she had any qualifications in arboriculture or health and safety. She had not. Ms Grace has been involved in the campaign for about three years but stated in her written affidavit that she had become more involved after the Rustlings Road incident in November 2016. What did this mean?

Ms Grace: ‘I decided not to be an armchair activist and to become more active. I felt a lot more strongly about the issue and that I wanted to be involved.’

Mr Vanderman: ‘Including attending felling sites?’

Ms Grace: ‘Yes.’

Mr Vanderman said that ‘geckoing’ was an ‘alleged loophole used to prevent or delay felling without breaching the injunction’.

Mr Vanderman suggested to Ms Grace that the reason she stayed with Dr Crump in the ‘disputed area on MPR was because she was ‘upset’.

Ms Grace: ‘That’s not what I said. Several trees were in danger of being felled. […] I did what I usually do: take photos, talk to other campaigners, be a witness. […] I felt trapped because I had no intention of being inside a barrier – they built the barriers around me. I don’t know why they did that.’

Mr Vanderman: ‘Is it your defence that the reason for the safety zone being extended was to trap you or to get you to move away?’

Ms Grace: ‘Entrapment.’

Ms Grace accepted that she and Dr Crump had been asked to leave eight times.

Mr Vanderman: ‘The reason you stayed was because you knew they wouldn’t fell the trees with you standing there.’

Ms Grace: ‘That’s not the reason. I was genuinely confused about why they had to enlarge the safety zone when there was already a safety zone. I didn’t know if there was a legitimate reason for building the barriers around us – it didn’t make sense. I was confused and bewildered. I hadn’t gone in, they had put me in.’

Mr Vanderman: ‘I’m putting it to you that you wanted to prevent the tree being felled.’

Ms Grace: ‘If I’d wanted to prevent the tree being felled I’d have taken direct action. But I didn’t, I just stood there.’

Mr Vanderman: ‘You didn’t ask why the barriers were put up?’

Ms Grace: ‘No, but I’m not sure if I’d have believed what they said anyway.’

Justice Males: ‘Was the level of distrust such that you would not have believed anything they said?’

Ms Grace: ‘That’s precisely the point. The level of distrust between us was already so high.’

Mr Vanderman: ‘You asked about the wording of the injunction?’

Ms Grace: ‘I was asking about the legitimacy of what they were doing – whether there was a valid reason for extending the safety zone.’

Ms Grace said that on the day she had not heard what one of the security guards had said to her, as played back on a video of the incident: ‘I don’t hear very well.’ (Ms Grace had worn a hearing loop throughout the two-day hearing, including during her time on the stand, and asked for a number of Mr Vanderman’s questions to be repeated.)

In the video clip, Ms Grace was heard asking to see ‘the *real* injunction’. Mr Vanderman asked if she knew what the injunction said: ‘Yes, but I also knew that there had been at least one *other* injunction posted [in warning signs] that was incorrect.’

Paul Brooke is called to the witness stand. As he passed Ms Grace they touched hands briefly in a gesture of… solidarity? Affirming his written affidavit, he asks for a single word in his statement to be corrected: ‘intention’ should be ‘attention’.

Mr Greenhall asked Mr Brooke approximately how many other felling sites he had attended besides the one in this case: ‘I can’t be precise – in the region of approximately 40 occasions.’

Mr Greenhall: ‘Have you ever prevented a tree being felled?’

Mr Brooke: ‘Not to my knowledge.’ He had not entered a safety zone since the granting of the injunction, after signing an undertaking.

Mr Greenhall referred to an incident in which an arborist had allegedly spat at him. Mr Brooke confirmed that this was Jason Wignell, who had been called a witness for the prosecution yesterday. ‘I made a complaint to the police and have not heard that the case is closed.’ He had not been aware that Mr Wignell was to give evidence to the court before yesterday.

Mr Brooke said that on the day of the incident in question, 22 January, he had a brief conversation with Calvin Payne after arriving on MPR, in which he was told that a protester had been beaten up. He had since learned that this incident was the one in the video appearing to show an uppercut. Mr Greenhall played a video of a female protester being prised away from railings by security guards and screaming in pain. Mr Brooke had not witnessed this incident directly but later was shown the video clip by another campaigner, Alan Simpson, on his telephone.

Mr Greenhall: ‘Did you notice anything?’

Mr Brooke (with voice breaking slightly): ‘I noticed a woman being assaulted.’

Another video clip was shown of a female protester being pulled away from railings, with the sound of screams and cries of ‘Don’t hurt her!’

Mr Brooke said that during this incident he was standing about eight metres away to one side, and about a metre or two behind the Heras fencing. ‘I heard the woman scream and thought at the time that the woman was being assaulted again. At one point a security guard stood on or kicked the woman. I assumed she was in pain and being assaulted again.’

A lengthy video clip was shown depicting the fencing collapsing from the weight of the campaigners behind it, including Mr Brooke pushing it, followed by a surge of people into the safety zone, again including Mr Brooke, who swore at a security guard. After a moment he retreated back outside of the zone, kicking the now-fallen fencing. The video continued, showing other protesters chanting and forming a protective circle around a threatened tree.

Mr Greenhall asked his intentions. Mr Brooke: ‘To distract their attention and prevent the woman from being assaulted.’

Mr Vanderman said that Mr Brooke is a resident of MPR and walks past these trees every day: ‘It’s natural that these trees are particularly dear to you.’ Referring to the incidents shown on the videos, he asked if Mr Brooke was aware of any complaints being made by the victim to the police. Mr Brooke said that she could not complain because she did not want to identify herself. Other s had made complaints on her behalf but they had not been taken seriously by police because they had not been made by the victim.

When Mr Vanderman asked if he knew who the victim was, Mr Brooke addressed the judge, saying that he would prefer not to incriminate another person. Mr Justice Males said this was his right, though it might affect how he assessed Mr Brooke’s evidence. When asked again by Mr Vanderman, Mr Brooke said that he did know the victim; Mr Vanderman then asked her name, and he declined to answer. Mr Justice Males queried the point of asking, and Mr Brooke again insisted that he would not wish potentially to incriminate someone.

Mr Vanderman asked why Mr Brooke had not asked police officers on the scene to intervene. Mr Brooke said that they were too far away, and earlier in the day they had told him that they there only to observe. He noted that since the occasion under discussion police had changed their tactics and now observed more closely, standing within a few feet of protester removals. Mr Vanderman said that he knew police officers did not consider that unreasonable force was being used. Mr Brooke: ‘I knew they weren’t acting.’

Mr Brooke denied that he considered *any* use of force was unreasonable and said that he what he thought about the actions of security staff in general was immaterial: ‘I believed a woman was being assaulted *at that time*’.

Mr Vanderman suggested that he was feeling angry during the incident. Mr Brooke said that he had felt a mixture of emotions, including anger, and that it had been ‘a traumatic experience for me – it was very unlike *me*.’ Mr Vanderman said that he not entered the safety zone because he believed a woman was being assaulted but because he was angry at a tree being felled on his street. Mr Brooke: ‘Which tree, this one or the fifth?’ He said that he had been at 15 or 20 tree fellings and had not reacted in the same way.

Mr Powlesland asked about ‘geckoing’. Mr Brooke said it had been ‘referred to earlier as a “loophole”. It is not a loophole! People stand by a wall or railing so that the barriers have to be erected in front of them. Nine times out of ten, that is what happens. […] Geckoing is not about exploiting a loophole, it’s about asserting a legal right of protest.’

Mr Brooke said that arborists would not specify what size a safety zone has to be because they keep changing it as it suits them – ‘one metre, two metres. Not once to my knowledge have they ever approached a householder to ask permission or taken them through the courts to cut branches oversailing their property. What they will do is turn up at five in the morning when no-one is looking.’

Benoit Compin has elected not to testify and will stand by his written affidavit. The full video, lasting around four minutes, was played of his performance of a poem inside a safety zone where work had already ceased. Security guards are shown asking him to leave, and he argues and tries to continue before agreeing to leave.

Mr Vanderman said that he had wanted to cross-examine Mr Compin about contradictions in his statement but would instead make a list of questions to pass on to his barrister, Mr Greenhall.

Submissions

Commencing his closing submissions, Mr Vanderman stated that a ‘safety zone’ was not defined as per the injunction in the undertaking that Simon Crump had signed because the injunction had been issued after the undertaking was signed. He argued that the ‘natural meaning’ on the term should apply, which included the notion that a safety zone extended to boundary walls and railings.

Concerning the incident on 18 December, Mr Vanderman said there could be no dispute that Dr Crump had remained in a safety zone, as he was within barriers erected around a tree. He said that this is sufficient to show that he and Fran Grace were in breach of the injunction. They could not have been trapped if they had been given the option to leave, which they could have done at any time.

Mr Vanderman referred to the evidence given by security guard Ricky Learman, that there is a default practice of setting up a safety zone around a tree to be felled before the lead arborist determined how big it needed to be. He said Jason Wignell’s evidence confirmed that a safety zone was only ever extended for safety purposes, including the size of the tree and the number of staff and vehicles involved. Mr Vanderman said that Dr Crump and Ms Grace had not asked why the zone was being extended, which would have been the obvious thing to do.

Mr Vanderman stated that Dr Crump had also said the zone was not complete. Mr Justice Males corrected him: he is heard in the video evidence saying that it was ‘not a proper zone’, but he does not explain in the video why it was not (such as that it was incomplete).

Mr Vanderman stated that Dr Crump did not want to leave the area in which he was standing because he knew felling could not take place with him there. He accepted that he had been standing there to delay the felling. In the incident on 16 January, Mr Vanderman said that there could be no question that he prevented safety barriers being erected flush against the railings. It could not be to prevent himself from being removed because there were no security staff there at the time. The video of him standing there alone lasted around an hour and a half. The size of the tree meant that the barriers had to be up against the railings, according to Darren Butt’s evidence, and this was a matter of expert opinion Dr Crump was not qualified to speak about. The only possible reason for Dr Crump to be standing there was to delay the felling.

Mr Justice Males asked: ‘What limit there was on where Amey can put a safety zone? Is there a good-faith test, or a need for a reasonable belief, or do they have to be right?’ Mr Vanderman stated that it was a matter of rationality.

Mr Vanderman stated that, to the extent that there were any doubts as to his intentions, they were dismissed by his Facebook post. It was very relevant that he had deleted it. He says that he can’t remember whether it was deleted by administrators or himself, but it was only last week.

Mr Justice Males said that it would be a bit odd if the regime was different for those who had given an undertaking and those who had not – it would be disorderly if some people could be in one place and not others. He said that it could be argued that the definition of a safety zone in the injunction did not apply to the undertaking because the injunction didn’t exist when the undertaking were signed.

Mr Vanderman said that Fran Grace attended felling sites two or three times a week so she clearly knew what the injunction said. ‘I put it to her that geckoing was a loophole…’. Mr Justice Males interrupted to say that ‘It’s not a loophole, is it?’ It was a question of what the injunction did or did not allow. Mr Vanderman said Ms Grace was asked to read an injunction notice, but accepted that she may not have heard the instruction.

Mr Vanderman said that Benoit Compin accepted that he had entered a safety zone on 10 January and remained for three and a half minutes.

The hearing continues on 7th June.

– reporting by Sheldon Hall.

Posted in Uncategorized

First report from the Crown Court – 5th June 2018

It was a day of two gasps, bracketed by a pair of curve balls.

The trial of Paul Brooke, Benoit Compin, Simon Crump and Fran Grace began with a lengthy preamble about procedural technicalities. Also discussed was the question of whether the testimony of two expert witnesses brought by the defence counted as either expert or relevant. The judge ruled that, for the time being at least, it did not.

But after more than an hour of tedious formalities Mr Justice Males gave his first showstopper. ‘Judges, like everyone else, occasionally read the papers’, he said, noting the present ‘moratorium, for whatever reason’, on tree-felling. Seeking the committal to prison of four Sheffield citizens was a serious matter: did it have the backing of democratically-elected councillors, and not just unelected council officers?

Yaaser Vanderman (acting for Sheffield City Council) seemed a little thrown. He said that the ultimate decision to proceed lay with the council’s legal office, not its leader, though lawyers would have taken into account the views of council members. This was not the decisive response the judge was asking for. Abruptly, he rose and stated that he was not prepared to proceed, ‘until you can give me a clear answer, yes or no.’

This unexpected intermission gave rise to much speculation among the two dozen STAG supporters gathered in the public gallery. Who would take responsibility for the decision to prosecute? Was there indeed a ‘separation of powers’ as recently claimed by Cllr Lewis Dagnall?

Phone calls having been made backstage, the court resumed. Mr Vanderman reported that SCC’s legal officer, Steve Eccleston, had spoken with council leader Julie Dore the previous day, when ‘she was happy for the proceedings to go ahead’. A further conversation had just confirmed that ‘she positively agrees that proceedings should be brought’. So that made clear where the buck stops.

Mr Vanderman then introduced 25 minutes of video evidence. Technical presentation was regrettably lacking in finesse. A first attempt to run the footage from a USB stick resulted in a frozen screen and muffled sound. After much mucking about with laptops, the video clips (stretched to a CinemaScope shape, with consequent optical distortion) were eventually played from CDs. No awards for showmanship here.

The evidence pertained to events on Meersbrook Park Road (MPR) in December and January (four separate occasions), and on Abbeydale Park Rise (APR) in March. It was claimed that the videos showed the defendants inside safety zones around trees and refusing to leave immediately when asked. This, it was stated by Mr Vanderman, put them in breach of the injunction.

Seven witnesses were called to testify in support of the prosecution. Six took the stand today: arborist Jason Wignell, evidence gatherer Jake Webb, security guards Ross Henderson, Ricky Learman and Richard Milligan, and Streets Ahead account director for Amey, Darren Butt. (Council officer Paul Billington will be heard from tomorrow.)

Several of the witnesses were asked to clarify claims made in their statements that one of the defendants, Simon Crump, had remained inside a safety zone for ten minutes when video footage in fact accounted for only three and a half minutes.

Under cross-examination by Paul Powlesland, acting for Simon Crump and Fran Grace, Acorn arb Jason Wignell was asked to define what considerations determined the size of a safety zone. The MPR zone on 18 December was narrower on the park side, where it abutted the railings, than on the highway side. At one point it was extended further on the road side, with the defendants still inside it. The zone was then reduced again after they had left the zone. Why had it been extended, and why had the reasons not been explained to Dr Crump and Ms Grace at the time? Mr Powlesland argued that the extension was done not for safety reasons but to force protesters out of the area.

Owen Greenhall, acting for Paul Brooke and Benoit Compin, related another incident on MPR, when the police had facilitated a protest. Mr Wignell had been in his vehicle, frustrated at being unable to move, and Mr Greenhall said that he had spat water at protesters through his window. Mr Wignell’s response – ‘That’s not true’ – drew a loud intake of breath from the public gallery.

Evidence gatherer Jack Webb disputed Benoit Compin’s claim that he had not known the terms of the injunction before 10 January because he had previously seen Mr Compin at ‘half a dozen’ felling sites; he was recognisable by his French accent and guitar. But Mr Greenhall pointed out that in his affidavit Mr Webb had not said that he had recognised him, only that he had been ‘informed by [his] colleagues’ that the protester was Mr Compin. So how could he recall how many times Mr Compin had attended fellings before or say what he knew about the injunction?

Mr Greenhall pointed out to Mr Wignell and Mr Webb that when Mr Compin entered a safety zone on MPR, for a total of three and a half minutes, another protester was already inside and had already brought work to a halt. The protester was still there when Mr Compin left the zone. Mr Webb was asked: ‘So when you say “As a result of protesters’ actions the tree was not felled that day”, you don’t mean that *Mr Compin* prevented the work.’

There was a long, long pause – around a minute – before the reply: ‘I still believe his actions were the reason why the tree was not felled that day.’

Mr Greenhall played a video clip several times in slow motion, showing what appeared to be an upper cut from a security guard to a protester on MPR. Mr Webb denied that the video clearly showed a punch being thrown. Mr Greenhall also referred to a woman protester being knocked to the ground and dragged across the floor: ‘I put it to you that the force that was used on that protester was not reasonable force.’ Mr Justice Males asked if this was a fair question to put to a witness. Mr Greenhall responded: ‘It’s what he says in his statement – that reasonable force was used.’

Darren Butt asserted that every tree is assessed on its own merits and that the tree on MPR was due to be felled because it had dislodged a kerbstone; installing a thinner kerb would be only a temporary solution as the tree would continue to grow and dislodge the kerbstone again. Mr Greenhall referred Mr Butt to a photo of the kerb: ‘Would you agree that the displacement of the kerb is minor?’ Mr Butt: ‘I accept that the kerb is displaced.’ Mr Greenhall: ‘Would you accept it is minor?’ Mr Butt: ‘I accept it is displaced.’

Mr Butt had personally asked Dr Crump and two other campaigners to leave an incomplete safety zone on MPR. Mr Powlesland asked if anything else in the zone had prevented the felling that day, and noted that a car was parked next to the tree: would the felling have gone ahead with the car still inside the zone? Mr Butt said that parking services would have been called to remove it: ‘We don’t chop trees over cars.’ Another audible gasp from the public gallery led the judge to say that it was unfair to have witnesses’ statements commented on in this way. A security officer in the gallery took up position alongside the front row, presumably ready to eject anyone who breached decorum.

Mr Powlesland showed Mr Butt a video shot from under a tree while it was being felled and asked if Mr Butt considered the work safe. Mr Butt said that he did, having previously investigated the video and been complimented on the work by professional associates. He did not believe the branch being cut was directly over the videographer as it appeared.

Mr Butt said that he was aware that some complaints of unreasonable force had been made against security guards. Several witnesses were asked about what they considered reasonable force; Mr Justice Males noted that they can say ‘what was done and why it was done, but whether it was reasonable is a matter for me’. He referred to a video taken on MPR on 22 January in which a woman was heard to cry out in pain. The judge stated that it was not a security guard who had caused the woman to cry out but an unidentified woman on the park side who had grabbed her hand through the railings. And on that dramatic note, he rose and the court was adjourned.

The trial continues tomorrow and Thursday.

– reporting by Sheldon Hall.

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Posted in Blog, Court cases, News

Sunday Times investigation: 110,000 trees lost to council axemen | News | The Sunday Times

More than 110,000 trees have been chopped down in three years by councils across the UK — equivalent to a sixth of the size of Sherwood Forest.

A Sunday Times investigation, using freedom of information (FoI) requests, has revealed that Sheffield — where the council has caused uproar by felling about 10% of its street tree population — is only the third-most prolific city at felling. It is exceeded by Newcastle, where 8,414 trees have been felled, and Edinburgh, with 4,435. The figure for Sheffield is 3,529.

In mixed urban and rural areas the top tree-cutting councils are Wiltshire, with 4,778 , Kent, with 3,623 and Basingstoke and Deane, with 3,579. More than 70 councils said they did not keep records of trees felled, despite it being a government requirement.

Experts and campaigners say some councils are trying to save money by chopping down large-canopy trees, often in urban settings, which can be expensive to maintain.

Trees such as oak, lime, sycamore, horse chestnut and ash are targets because their roots can spread along pavements and cause damage to buildings and roads.

Large trees absorb harmful particulates that can lead to disease. However, housing and road schemes have led to culls in cities such as Newcastle, a city highlighted by the World Health Organisation as a pollution hotspot, one of many in the UK.

Newcastle city council has felled the most trees of any local authority in our study of 288 councils over the past three years. The council, however, claims to maintain a stock of 800,000 trees, including woodland outside the city, meaning it felled 1% of its population. It refused to give a figure for its felled street trees to allow a like-for-like comparison with Sheffield.

Belfast city council has chopped down fewer, 3,213, but this represents 6% of its stock. Basingstoke and Deane council in Hampshire has also culled 6%.

Edinburgh council has felled about 1,000 trees more than Sheffield since 2015. However, the city has been battling Dutch elm disease.

The true number of trees cut down in the UK is likely to be far higher. Many councils failed to respond to our request two months after the request was made.

A total of 288 councils responded, of which 201 provided numbers. A national total of 113,792 trees is recorded as being felled by councils since 2015.

The environment department (Defra) and Forestry Commission keep no record of trees felled under local authority powers. Defra said: “Local authorities should be keeping their own records.”

Seventy-two councils responded by saying they did not keep records. Some councils said the request was too costly to answer.

According to Defra, the number of trees cut down by councils equates to about 67 hectares, equivalent to more than 90 Wembley football pitches.

Some councils claim to have offset mature trees felled by replanting. However, experts say saplings cannot match the benefits of a mature-canopy tree.

“It takes up to 100 years for many broad-leaved trees to reach their full beneficial potential and the next 100 years to repay those benefits to its environment,” said Simon Richmond, senior technical officer for the Arboricultural Association.

“Respected research has shown trees have an impact on improved mental health, pollution reduction, physical health, flooding and temperature control. Property values are also known to be higher in more ‘leafy’ residential areas. The benefits of trees are enormous.”

He added that in some areas trees were being lost because it is cheaper to fell than maintain them. Sheffield’s tree-felling is part of a £2bn, 25-year project called Streets Ahead. Thousands of trees, assessed by the contractor Amey as dead, dying, diseased, damaging or dangerous, have been cut down.

Paul Selby, a tree campaigner, said: “Sheffield made it very obvious what they were doing, but I think tree felling can go largely unnoticed in a lot of cities. This can happen by stealth.”

Part of the problem nationally, according to Richmond, is a cut in the number of tree officers employed by councils to maintain and champion tree stocks. “They fight the battles against planning and development departments to keep trees, to cut only when absolutely necessary,” he said.

Newcastle has removed three tree inspectors to save money. The council said: “When you visit Newcastle it’s evident just how much of a green city we are. Newcastle has a proud collection of parks and open spaces.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sunday-times-investigation-110-000-trees-lost-to-council-axemen-pjlkp6qkz

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Sheffield Council blames ‘intimidating and violent’ protesters for latest secrecy over trees

Sheffield Council has refused to reveal another key part of its official policy for the controversial felling of thousands of street trees – on the grounds that secrecy is necessary to protect staff and the public from attacks by protesters should the information be made public.

The council has rejected a request to release its annual tree management programme for 2017/18 by claiming that “increasingly intimidating and at times violent” behaviour by campaigners means publishing the information would risk the safety of both contractors and the public in areas where felling is due to take place.

According to the council’s £2.2bn Streets Ahead highways maintenance contract with private firm Amey which started in 2012, the replacement of trees with new saplings has to be done “in accordance with the annual tree management programme”.

The contract details that not less than 200 trees per year should be removed so that 17,500 of the city’s 36,000 street trees are replaced by 2037. Almost 6,000 have been removed so far.

The authority has said it now estimates around 10,000 trees will be replaced with new saplings over the course of the contract but has admitted there will be a “financial adjustment” should 17,500 not be removed.

The council response, sent on April 13 – almost three weeks after felling was paused for a review to take place following a national outcry against the policy – stated that as the programme contains details of where removals were planned to take place, publishing it would “provide information which may lead to the targeting of works sites and increase the likelihood of intimidation or physical assaults against staff and the public at those sites”.

Campaigners today said the refusal was a tactic by the council to delay the publication of information, while also being “spin” that attempts to paint protesters in a negative light.

Around 20 people were arrested between January and March at tree protests after Amey brought in private security guards to support felling operations. Dozens of police officers were sent out to support operations from February following clashes in January.

The arrests included one woman accused of a public order offence for blowing a toy trumpet at a tree protest. One day after that, a vicar carrying a tambourine and a woman with a pink recorder were both also arrested, one for obstructing the highway and the other on suspicion of obstructing a constable.

South Yorkshire Police said today one man has been charged with two counts of assault, with a number of other cases still being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Benoit Compin, the main charged with allegedly assaulting two security guards in March, is to face trial at Sheffield Magistrates Court in August and intends to plead not guilty.

The council FoI response said: “The current level of tree protester action, which is becoming increasingly intimidating and at times violent against Amey employees, precludes the council from releasing up-to-date versions of the Annual Tree Management Programme due to the risk to these employees.

“Amey, and as contracting organisation, Sheffield City Council, have a duty of care to its employees and to release a programme which details where in the city staff are likely to be working throughout the year would conflict with this duty of care by enabling protesters to target work sites.

“The council considers that this documentation therefore is exempt from disclosure in order to legitimately protect the health and safety for Amey staff and in association the public at sites where works are planned.”

Tree campaigner Justin Buxton, who was charged in March with obstruction of the highway at a tree-felling protest before the case was discontinued by the CPS days before it was due in court, said: “This is a last ditch attempt by the council to do something which serves two purposes. It delays the publication of the annual tree management programme. But it is also a little bit of spin to make out the protesters are violent and cause civil unrest.”

The council also rejected requests to see the annual tree management programme for the years between 2012 and 2016 on the grounds that it intends to publish this information at an unspecified future date.

It comes after another key element of the contract, the Highway Tree Replacement Policy, was revealed by The Yorkshire Post earlier this month following a separate Freedom of Information battle with the council.

That showed the replacement policy focuses on minimising maintenance costs for new saplings while containing no mention of existing trees only being replaced as a “last resort” as the authority’s leaders had repeatedly claimed in the past.

Campaigners have requested an internal review of the council’s decision to refuse their FoI request.

When contacted by The Yorkshire Post, Sheffield Council said its position on the issue “remains the same” as what was written in the FoI and it had nothing further to add

Original article here:

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/sheffield-council-blames-intimidating-and-violent-protesters-for-latest-secrecy-over-trees-1-9189930

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Crowdfunder: street trees legal fund

We are currently collecting to support the small number of campaigners who are facing court costs after cases brought by Sheffield City Council.

Heartwood TiCL trail

Walk the Heartwood Trail and find Robert Macfarlane’s beautiful charms against harm hung from some of Sheffield’s threatened Street Trees. Designed by Jackie Morris.

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