Campaigner faces up to two years in jail over tree protest

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A campaigner is facing up to two years in jail after he was found in contempt of court for breaching an injunction to prevent direct action against tree felling in Sheffield.

Calvin Payne appeared at the High Court in Sheffield on Friday along with two other campaigners, Green city councillor Alison Teal and Siobhan O’Malley, against the continuing felling programme in the city.

The case was dismissed against Ms Teal and Ms O’Malley’s case was adjourned.

All three were accused of breaching an injunction obtained by Sheffield City Council earlier this year, aimed at stopping the direct action which had plagued its contractor Amey’s attempts to fell hundreds of trees.

Mr Justice Males found Mr Payne was in contempt relating to a Facebook post he wrote, encouraging others to break the injunction.

But the judge has still to rule on a number of other allegations of contempt against him.

Ms Teal was accused of one breach of the injunction relating to being inside safety barriers around a tree in Kenwood Road on September 25.

After legal argument about the “delineation” of a safety zone, the judge dismissed the case against the councillor.

Mr Justice Males, the same judge who imposed the injunction in August, told Ms O’Malley, who was not represented by a barrister, that he was adjourning her case for a week to allow her to seek legal advice.

He told her: “The consequences for you if you are found to be in contempt could be very serious.

“The council is inviting me to send you to prison if I find the contempt proved.”

The injunction obtained by the council earlier in the year prevents protesters entering safety zone set up around trees being felled.

It also forbids people encouraging or facilitating anyone else to break the injunction, including through social media.

The judge found Mr Payne in contempt in relation to a Facebook post he made on a trees campaign Facebook page on October 6.

The court heard he responded to the question “Is there anything we can do to help?” by saying: “What I would really like is for as many people as possible to break the injunction on Monday morning.”

Evidence supplied to the court by the council also referred to another Facebook post by Mr Payne on October 10 about trees in Meersbrook Road, saying: “All trees still there. It has taken methods that may be illegal, but there are bigger principles than upholding the law in play by now.”

In response to another post on the same day hoping no one is prosecuted, Mr Payne said: “That’s a risk we’ll have to take. I no longer care. I’d rather do what’s right than be what the powers that be see as well behaved and respectable.”

The council’s application included a number of other claims against Mr Payne about his alleged incursions into safety zones in Kenwood Road and Dunkeld Road.

The judge said he would issue a written ruling on the remaining allegations early next week.

He said Mr Payne would be sentenced on Friday November 3 and he would also hear the case against Ms O’Malley on the same day.

Sheffield has seen regular street protests and a series of arrests as contractors have removed thousands of roadside trees.

The dispute has its origin in a 25-year £2.2 billion private finance initiative agreement the council signed with contractor Amey in 2009.

The contract includes a huge programme to resurface thousands of miles of Sheffield’s pothole-ridden road system and as part of this, Amey is tasked with maintaining 36,000 roadside trees.

The contractor and council say the trees being removed are diseased or dangerous and all are being replaced.

But protesters say many of the trees and their root systems are simply getting in the way of Amey’s resurfacing methods and the council has locked itself into a contract aimed as maximising a private firm’s profits.

A year ago two pensioners were arrested in Rustlings Road after an operation described by the then local MP and former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg as being more like a well-planned anti-terror raid than a morning of tree maintenance.

The council later apologised for the Rustlings Road operation.

Everyone arrested at protests so far have been released without charge.