Police wanted to push for prosecutions of Sheffield tree protesters over operation costs

Police intended to push for prosecutions of Sheffield tree protesters due to the costs of sending dozens of officers to oversee felling operations on a daily basis in early 2018, transcripts from planning meetings reveal.

Dozens of police officers oversaw tree-felling operations in Sheffield in early 2018. Pic: Scott Merrylees

An operation to send large numbers of officers to oversee controversial street tree felling work as part of a council highways contract was launched in February last year after clashes between protesters and private security guards hired by council contractor Amey led to allegations of assault being made by both sides.

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Partially-redacted transcripts of behind-closed-doors discussions about Operation Quito between police and representatives from Sheffield Council and Amey have now been released to The Yorkshire Post which have revealed new details of the force’s approach.

During one meeting, Superintendent Paul McCurry said: “I want to prove it is very much now in the public interest to be prosecuting because of the costs… our impact statement will be the cost of this operation from a taxpayer’s perspective.”

Between 2017/18 and 2018/19, police spent more than £110,000 on overtime relating to staffing tree-felling protests in Sheffield.

In the transcripts of one meeting prior to the launch of Operation Quito, Supt McCurry added assigning multiple officers to the operation would not just come at a financial cost.

“We’re taking officers next week, it’s a dedicated operation but ultimately, the majority of them are working on-duty officers, so it’s not as if we are paying huge amounts [to] officers to come in on weekly leave. We are paying some of them so there are some costs to us but we are taking them from across force on other duties so, as a result of that, policing is suffering somewhere else.”

A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said Supt McCurry’s comments about pursuing prosecutions did not mean officers on the ground were under pressure to make arrests and that such actions were only carried out as “a last resort”. “It is set out clearly in the Gold Strategy and supporting Tactical Plan, which have been released under FOI, arrests were to be considered as a last resort,” she said. “All officers engaged on the operation received a briefing each morning, where this was reiterated.”

During Operation Quito, which ran until late March when Sheffield Council and Amey put felling on hold, around 20 arrests were made - including that of a woman for blowing a toy horn, under the Public Order Act, as well as as a retired fireman who was accused of witness intimidation for allegedly filming a private security guard hired by Amey.

But the only case so far understood to have resulted in a Sheffield tree-felling protester being convicted of a criminal offence was that of a 48-year-old man who was given a 12-month conditional discharge after being found guilty of obstructing police for failing to give his name and address when he was being arrested.

South Yorkshire Police would not confirm precise numbers of arrests during Operation Quito but told The Yorkshire Post there are no cases still outstanding in relation to the operation.

Paul Brooke, co-chair of the Sheffield Trees Action Groups, said today: “We need to have an independent inquiry into the whole tree-felling shambles.”

Sheffield Council and Amey introduced a new approach to felling earlier this year designed to reduce the numbers of trees being removed by prioritising pavement repairs.