Secrecy over police advice to Sheffield Council representative on tree operation

Police at one of Sheffield's tree felling sites last year.
Police at one of Sheffield's tree felling sites last year.
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Police advice on what a public meeting of Sheffield Council should be told about their plans to send dozens of officers to attend the authority’s controversial tree-felling operations to deal with protesters remains largely secret.

An operation by South Yorkshire Police to send large numbers of officers to oversee controversial street tree-felling work and ensure demonstrators did not breach a civil injunction preventing them from entering work zones was launched in February last year after clashes between protesters and private security guards hired by council contractor Amey in January led to allegations of assault being made by both sides.

Partially-redacted transcripts of planning meetings between the police, Sheffield Council and Amey have been released to The Yorkshire Post under Freedom of Information laws and have revealed how the three parties jointly planned a communications strategy despite the force insisting publicly it was completely impartial in the matter. They have also shown that police intended to push for prosecutions of arrested protesters due to the costs of sending officers to operations.

It can now also be revealed that in one meeting on February 5 last year an unidentified person asked what could be said “from my side” at a monthly council meeting due to take place two days later. One sentence of reply from a senior police officer has been made public followed by almost a page of redacted conversation.

The transcripts show the person said: “It’s for me to have an understanding really of what I can sort of say because I will be asked about this [inaudible] what we are doing and... it’s gone beyond peaceful protest. It’s what [redacted] is saying, can they allude to there are instances of what could be criminality? I am just trying to understand what I can say because I don’t want to say anything because it will just get thrown back at us and there will be baying and shouting from the gallery.”

Superintendant Paul McCurry replies: “We have certainly obviously used a line that we are investigating criminal offences and when I go into our comms team in a second, we will talk about the offences.”

This is then followed by almost a full page of redactions before someone says “[...] really clear and I will just come over to [redacted] just to talk about what the police’s comms might look like.”

Police have said redactions have made to protect legal privilege and that criminal investigations “may still be continuing”. But The Yorkshire Post has subsequently been told there are no outstanding cases relating to the operation.

Sheffield Council today refused to answer questions about the identity of the council representative and whether it was a councillor, as well as what the level of co-operation between the council, the police and Amey was during the operation.

Minutes from the February 7 council meeting show that in answer to questions about tree work being put on hold following the clashes the previous month, Councillor Bryan Lodge, the then-cabinet member for environment and streetscene, said the pause “was the result of a review taking place and given concerns regarding safety”. The minutes say he then added: “As regards the reports of injuries, the police were investigating a number of allegations of assault and if there was evidence of criminal activity, this should be handed to the police. Amey was assessing the risk as regards the safety of members of the public, protesters, workers, stewards and the police.”