AROUND 150 demonstrators protested outside Sheffield Magistrates’ Court to support two campaigners facing criminal charges for trying to save a tree from the axe.
Simon Crump, aged 56, of Heeley and Calvin Payne, 44, of Nether Edge, appeared in court charged under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act.
Both men were arrested and later charged for unlawfully obstructing council contractor Amey in felling a tree on Marden Road, Nether Edge on November 2.
The council, contractor Amey and South Yorkshire Police have all come under fire for a later operation on Rustlings Road where trees were cut down at 5am with no warning.
Two 70-year-old women were arrested in the protest which followed.
Speakers outside the court included former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, prominent tree campaigners and opposition councillors.
Ms Bennett told the crowd: “There are people in Sheffield who are determined to save our trees and they are going to continue to peacefully stand with their arms folded in front of their trees.
“If people get charged, like when we saw arrests on Rustlings Road, for standing up to the intimidating contractor Amey, it really brings the whole law into utter disrepute.”
The men appeared in court – packed with supporters – and pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Defence solicitor Helen White told the court the men were engaging in a ‘peaceful protest’ before being arrested.
The pair were granted unconditional bail by District Judge Paul Healey and will appear back at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court for trial on March 9.
Both men received loud cheers on their way in and out of court amid chants of ‘save our trees’.
Many protesters brought banners including one reading ‘Sheffield City Council shame on you’.
Dave Dilner, from Sheffield Tree Action Group, told the crowd after the case: “The threat of arrest and prosecution will continue for the act of protesting peacefully against tree felling until at least March 9.”
Speaking after the court appearance, Mr Payne said: “We’re perfectly happy, we want to test the legislation. We want to say these arrests shouldn’t have happened, the ones on Rustlings Road shouldn’t have happened.
“We want to make it official that the protests going on for the last 18 months are lawful, peaceful, legal and people can engage in them and defend their communities.”
Mr Payne added that the court case had made him more determined to protest.
“All this has made me more keen and I’ll make it absolutely clear I would go out tomorrow morning and do the same thing,” he said.
Co-accused Mr Crump paid tribute to the people who came out and supported them.
He said: “This whole thing has made the authorities involved look like complete fools. All this shows people will not just lie down and let this happen in our communities.
“The support has been amazing, it’s really overwhelming.”