Correction: This article was corrected at 10:10pm on Thursday 21 June. It originally stated that Fran Grace was given a suspended sentence. This was incorrect. The judge took no further action against her.
A judge has thrown out Sheffield City Council’s application to jail a protester over the ongoing tree felling saga. It means that four protesters the council wanted locked up have been allowed their freedom, with the judge in this case finding the man not guilty.
The tree felling programme
Labour-led Sheffield City Council and its contractor Amey are chopping down public trees in the city. Local residents aren’t happy because of the environmental impact, the “Thatcherite anti-union” behaviour of the Labour council, and public health concerns. But the council argues that the work is necessary to “avoid catastrophic financial consequences”.
As The Canary has been documenting, people have been campaigning against the felling of trees. But on 15 August 2017, following a court case it brought against three campaigners, the council said that anyone who tried to protest “inside a safety zone” around the tree felling area would be in contempt of court and “face the risk of a fine or imprisonment”.
Sheffield campaigners in court
The council has now enforced that policy. As the Star reported, campaigners Paul Brooke, Simon Crump, Benoit Benz Compin and Fran Grace appeared in Sheffield’s high court between 5 and 7 June. The council accused them of breaching the injunctions placed around tree felling areas. The incidents allegedly occurred during protests in December 2017 and January 2018.
As the Yorkshire Post reported, Crump and Compin were found guilty of breaching the injunctions. But judge Justice Males chose not to imprison them, instead giving them suspended sentences. He took no further action against Grace. But Males needed more time to consider the case of the fourth defendant, Brooke. He’s now reached that decision.
“The defence of another”
Giving his ruling in a London court, Males said he accepted Brooke’s version of events:
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…
The incident involved Brooke entering an injunction area to try and help a female protester, who was in distress.
An ongoing saga
Alison Teal, Green Party councillor for Nether Edge and Sharrow Ward in Sheffield, told The Canary:
Justice Males exercised good judgement in recognising that Paul Brooke entered a safety zone expressly to protect another campaigner. His ‘breach’ had nothing to do with tree felling. The council chose heavy handed tactics to intimidate campaigners and now they’re reaping what they’ve sown. Another huge waste of public money, and unnecessary stress and suffering for campaigners. They need to talk to us.
People on Twitter were pleased:
— Susan Unwin (@sj_unwin) June 21, 2018
Not guilty – great news in case that should never have been brought by #Sheffield's Labour council: "in the circumstances … he did no more than was reasonably necessary in the light of the belief which he held". #SaveSheffTrees https://t.co/vCnBb1MV2O
— Natalie Bennett (@natalieben) June 21, 2018
— Prof Fionn Stevenson (@fionnstevenson) June 21, 2018
High Court rules that #tree campaigner Paul Brooke was not in breach of an injunction. His genuine and honest belief in defending a woman from Sheffield Council's security staff was a defence. #SaveSheffTrees https://t.co/41L7MiWe3R
— Douglas Johnson (@DouglasJSheff) June 21, 2018
Previously, the council won a court case against two other protesters, who face costs of £27,000. In the most recent four cases, the Yorkshire Post reports that the protesters will also face costs payable to the council.
– Read more of The Canary‘s coverage on the Sheffield trees saga.
– Sign No Stump City’s petition.
Featured image via Alan Story