Sheffield tree campaigners still waiting for personal apologies from council after deadline passes
Earlier this year the findings of a long-awaited inquiry into the infamous Streets Ahead programme that aimed to fell 17,500 street trees as part of a £2.2 billion contract between the council and Amey were published.
The inquiry found the council overstretched its authority in taking drastic action against campaigners, had serious and sustained failures in leadership and misled the public, courts and an independent panel it set up to deal with the dispute.
In a public apology, the council said: “Protesters and campaigners were maligned, injured and experienced physical, emotional and, for some, financial stress.”
The council promised to apologise personally to those affected either in writing or formally face to face by October 31 as part of its reconciliation plans.
But several months later Calvin Payne, a prominent protester, said he was one of many people still waiting for a personal apology from the authority in a full council meeting last week.
He was arrested and detained for eight hours by police and dealt three suspended prison sentences six years ago as a result of the council’s legal action against campaigners. Several others faced similar convictions.
These convictions remain on Mr Payne’s record despite the council stating in a public apology that proceedings were “an unwise course of action”.
Council leader Tom Hunt said the authority could not exonerate those found guilty of breaching its injunction but it would do “everything possible” to mitigate any ongoing challenges they face.
But Mr Payne is still waiting for the council to act.
He said: “[There has been] very little effort to apologise. I’ve not had a satisfactory apology, I’ve not had a personal apology. I have not been offered a personal apology, nor have many other people.
“The people that took those decisions – took the court action – have moved on and nobody has been held to account for that. I am held to account for that all the time with these sentences. I was proven right and I still face the consequences.”
Mr Hunt said he knew the process had taken longer than expected.
He said: “We cannot undo what has happened but we do want to mitigate the impact of our actions as much as we can. A part of that has been the apology process. I’ve personally been involved in that and I know in my experience of doing so it has brought into sharper focus the personal fears and worries that engendered at the time and since.
“We need to be mindful of progressing the apologies in a way that is consistent and not taking missteps along the way.”
The apology was written by James Henderson, the council’s director of policy and democratic engagement, who started by saying sorry for the apology taking longer than expected.