Police to pay thousands in compensation to Sheffield tree campaigners over 'groundless' arrests

The long-running dispute over tree-felling in Sheffield has involved police.

South Yorkshire Police is to pay thousands in compensation to a group of Sheffield anti tree-felling protesters who were arrested under trade union legislation which officers had “no grounds” to use.

Seven of 14 people arrested under the regulations are taking legal action and the force confirmed today it is in the process of agreeing payouts, with some settlements already reached. It is understood the payments agreed already are for around £3,000 each.

It comes after the Independent Office for Police Conduct upheld appeals in August from six complainants relating to arrests made in connection with tree-felling work in the city under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act between November 2016 and February 2017.

The IOPC said the force had “no grounds” to use the legislation to make the arrests and recommended “management action” for three officers involved.

Protesters who oppose a major tree-felling programme in the city had employed a tactic of standing directly under threatened trees to prevent their removal by council contractors.

Between late 2016 and early 2017, 14 people were arrested for preventing lawful work under the rarely-used section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992. In March 2017 after the CPS dropped cases, police commissioner Alan Billings said there was “no mileage” in the force making arrests under the legislation, which is normally used in relation to workers on picket lines during strikes.

Sheffield Council subsequently successfully applied for a High Court injunction making such ‘direct action’ protests involving standing underneath threatened trees an offence.

Iftikhar Manzoor, from Howells Solicitors in Sheffield, which is representing some of the complainants, said: “I confirm that I have settled a number of claims for the tree campaigners. There a number of outstanding claims and further details will be made public in the New Year.”

A spokeswoman for South Yorkshire Police said: “We have agreed, or are in the process of agreeing, a private settlement with those individuals affected by this matter.”

The force said in August: “It is important to understand the IOPC did not question the officers’ motivation for the arrests, but questioned whether they were appropriate.

“No officers were found to have a case to answer for misconduct.”

Earlier this month, Sheffield Council laid out plans to fell fewer trees in the city as part of highways maintenance work following talks with campaigners in a bid to end the long-running dispute.

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