Sheffield tree campaigners vow to continue protests despite convictions

Protests against tree-felling in Sheffield will continue despite a judge convicting three demonstrators of breaching an injunction - leaving them facing the prospect of paying tens of thousands in legal fees, campaigners have vowed.

Benoit Compin (left) and Paul Brooke outside court. Pic: Dave Higgens

A decision on the costs that will be owed by Simon Crump, Benoit Compin and Fran Grace will only be made once judge Justice Males makes a judgement in the case against a fourth protester, Paul Brooke.

The judge, who granted the council the civil injunctions last year preventing protests inside ‘safety zones’ around trees due for felling, said he needed further time to consider his verdict in Mr Brooke’s case.

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Speaking outside court following the conviction of his three fellow campaigners fighting against the removal of healthy street trees in Sheffield and their replacement with saplings as part of a council highways maintenance contract with private firm Amey, Brooke said while protesters will abide by the terms of the injunction in future, demonstrations will not stop.

Work to fell thousands of trees in the city has been on hold for more than two months following a national outcry against the policy after dozens of police officers and private security guards were sent out to support operations earlier this year.

Brooke said: “Bringing this case today didn’t serve the people of Sheffield. Bringing this case today won’t make it easier for Amey to come back and carry on felling trees if that’s what they choose to do. There will be a greater number of people seeking to legally protest if they return to felling. I hold very little hope that this council has learned anything from this process.”

In his ruling, Justice Males said he expressed no view about the merits of the tree-felling programme but added it was “critical to the rule of law that the orders of the court should be complied with”.

He said: “If we were to reach a position where orders made by the court could be ignored with impunity by those who disagree with them, we would have lost something very precious.”

The judge also rejected an accusation made during the trial that Sheffield Council officer Paul Billington had given ‘misleading evidence’ that led to injunction being granted in relation to the number of trees due to be felled under the contract.

He said: “I found him to be an honest and reliable witness, a conscientious and fair-minded council officer doing a challenging job.”

The first incident the judge ruled on occurred on December 18 and involved Simon Crump and Fran Grace.

The court was shown videos of Crump and Grace being asked several times to leave a “safety zone” around a tree made up of metal fencing by workers.

The second incident on January 10, 2018 involved Benoit Compin and saw him reciting a poem while stood inside a safety zone.

The third incident involved Crump holding on to park railing close to a threatened tree in an attempt to prevent a safety zone being completed by the final barriers being joined together.

The final incident again involved Benoit Compin and happened on March 5 on Abbeydale Park Rise, when he said ‘I’m going to break the injunction again’ and climbed on to a threatened tree.

The incident yet to be decided upon involving Brooke happened on January 22.