Details have been revealed after Sheffield MP and shadow policing minister Louise Haigh said the force had been left in an “impossible position” over dealing with tree-felling protests in the city after clashes between private security guards and campaigners earlier this year led to a decision to increase the number of officers being sent to operations.
The Protest Removal Team (PRT) has been in operation since 2005 and had only ever been deployed to one ‘isolated incident’ rather than a group protest in the county since then. But two weeks ago, they were used to remove a campaigner crouching under a cherry picker that was partly raised in the air by hydraulic jacks by a tree that was due to be felled by Sheffield Council contractors.
The force said the team went in wearing riot helmets to protect their heads from the potential of the truck falling on them as they removed the man from underneath the vehicle.
The team has previously been sent to assist other forces with the Drax Power Station protests in 2008, as well as dealing with protests relating to planned fracking work in Humberside.
A spokeswoman for South Yorkshire Police said: “South Yorkshire Police’s Protest Removal Team was introduced in 2005, when the College of Policing, as part of its Authorised Policing Practice, recommended it.
“Since their introduction the PRT has been involved in protests at Drax Power station in 2008 and has assisted Humberside Police with protests in relation to oil and gas exploration.”
The force had few details available about the first incident in which the team was deployed in South Yorkshire, but it is understood to have happened a few years ago and involved an isolated incident rather than in response to an organised protest.
Details have been revealed after the force came in for criticism this month over its policing of tree-felling operations from former leader of Sheffield Council and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven, who said there had been a “very worrying and escalating use of police” in dealing with the issue.
But Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh said the force has had little choice to increase its involvement in the ongoing situation. “Their legal duties leave them no choice other than to attend the fellings and to protect the peace, but this has left them in an impossible position. I am deeply uncomfortable with the police’s scarce resource - which have been stretched to breaking point by Tory cuts - being used in this way.”
Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield said he had been “reassured by the approach” taken by the police in light of what he called the “recent escalation of unlawful direct action by a minority of protesters”.
The costs of the tree protests in larger numbers is yet to be established by South Yorkshire Police, according to a recent Freedom of Information response from the force.