Echoes of Orgreave will reverberate around South Yorkshire as this newspaper reveals that a ‘lurid’ smear formed part of the backbone of South Yorkshire Police’s controversial dealings with protesters objecting to the mass felling of street trees in Sheffield.
The very notion that individuals who have put their bodies in the way of chainsaws to protect trees, and all of the wildlife that goes with them, would consider cutting the safety ropes of people up high, or booby-trapping those trees with glass and nails in a bid to cause harm to workers going about their job, could not be more absurd.
And yet, after an investigation by The Yorkshire Post, it can now be revealed these fabrications were critical in the decision-making processes followed by police chiefs when instructing officers in how to deal with protesters.
In the context of contractors’ lives being put at risk, the dawn raids, the arrests of pensioners, the strong-arming of a woman off the streets for tooting a horn – and all of the other unseemly clashes we’ve witnessed – all make more sense if there is a confirmed threat to life. Preventing as much is at the heart of the police oath and, as such, any right-thinking person could accept the tactics used were proportionate.
Except there were no booby traps; there was no threat to life. No nails, glass or rope-cutting saboteurs. Just well-meaning people looking to preserve the natural beauty of their city. That this so-called police ‘intelligence’ was used to justify the response will only add to the mistrust of SYP.
The public interest now demands answers to these questions. How could an allegation deemed unworthy of investigation owing to lack of evidence become part of the justification for deploying so many officers with a mandate to use such force? Who was responsible for accepting an assertion so patently ludicrous? What will be done to ensure this cannot happen again?