South Yorkshire Police refuse to publish Sheffield tree row tapes

Police at one of Sheffield's tree felling sites in 2018.
Police at one of Sheffield's tree felling sites in 2018.
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South Yorkshire Police refused to release audio tapes of planning meetings for its controversial operation to send dozens of officers to support tree-felling work in Sheffield last year, it has been revealed.

The existence of the recordings of three meetings with Amey and Sheffield Council has come to light after The Yorkshire Post revealed yesterday how unsubstantiated allegations that anti tree-felling campaigners had cut workers’ ropes and studded nails and glass into trees in attempts to cause serious injury were first raised with the police by contractors in an “initial risk assessment meeting” for the operation.

While police never investigated the claims due to a lack of evidence, the allegations were subsequently included as “intelligence” in a police communications plan and briefed to officers before later being made public in a report that exonerated the force’s controversial response to protests.

The force launched what was known as Operation Quito on February 26 last year to support street tree-felling operations being carried out on behalf of Sheffield City Council by Amey as part of a £2bn highways improvement project called Streets Ahead. Dozens of officers were sent out to felling locations, in addition to large numbers of private security guards hired by Amey, in response to growing protests.

Following a report in this newspaper, a Freedom of Information response issued by South Yorkshire Police to tree campaigner Marcus Combie in May 2018 has been brought to the newspaper’s attention.

The published documents include an email from Superintendent Paul McCurry confirming “three official multi-agency meetings with Amey and Sheffield City Council” had taken place on February 5, 19 and 23, 2018.

The email, which related to what information should be published in response to a previous FoI request, added: “Each meeting was audio recorded (not to be disclosed due to information presented around legal powers).”

As The Yorkshire Post went to print last night, South Yorkshire Police had not responded to questions about whether it was still the force’s position that it did not wish to release the recordings and whether it was able to confirm that the allegations against the anti-felling campaigners had first been raised in one of the three taped meetings.

Amey postponed felling work in late March 2018 to review how it was carried out. A new approach designed to save more trees started last month.