Sheffield Council is attempting to have four anti tree-felling protesters jailed for allegedly breaching the terms of a High Court injunction banning ‘direct action’ protests against the controversial policy.
The first day of the three-day hearing against Paul Brooke, Simon Crump, Benoit Compin and Fran Grace heard today that the committal hearing which has been brought by the council has the backing of the authority’s Labour leader Julie Dore after judge Justice Males demanded to know whether the legal action was being supported by democratically-elected councillors.
Sheffield Council leader 'positively agreed' attempt to send campaigners to prison
The injunction, which the council won last summer in the wake of growing protests against the removal of thousands of street trees in the city and their replacement with saplings, prevents protesters entering safety zones set up around trees being felled and also forbids people encouraging or facilitating anyone else to break the injunction, including through social media.
It is the council’s case that the four campaigners breached the order at a number of felling sites in the city between December 2017 and March 2018.
Here is a summary of what evidence was heard on relating to each of the incidents:
December 18, 2017: Simon Crump and Fran Grace
The court was shown videos of Crump and Grace being asked to leave a “safety zone” around a tree made up of metal fencing by workers.
Mr Crump is shown on the video saying: “It isn’t a proper safety zone.” A worker replies: “It is a proper safety zone, everything about it is fine.”
Barrister Paul Powlesland, representing Crump and Grace, told the court it is the case of his clients that workers unnecessarily expanded the area covered by the barriers from their original dimensions in order “to force them from the area and remove them from protesting.”
Jason Wignell, who works for Amey subcontractor Acorn, accepted under cross-examination the pair had been inside the area for a maximum of ten minutes.
January 10, 2018: Benoit Compin
A video was played of Benoit Compin on Meersbrook Park Road being asked to leave a safety zone made up of plastic barriers as he attempted to read out a poem.
Owen Greenhall, representing Compin, told the court his client’s case is that he had not been aware of the injunction prior to the incident on January 10. He said it is accepted that his client was in the safety zone for around three-and-half minutes, during which time another protester was also inside the barriers who had entered before Compin’s arrival and remained there after he left.
Mr Wignell told the court he believed Compin would have been aware of the injunction as they had seen him at around half-a-dozen previous protests.
When asked by Mr Greenhall whether he could be sure he saw Compin on that number of occasions prior to January 10 and that the true number could be just one or two times, Mr Wignell replied: “I do believe it was more than that but it could have been.”
Mr Wignell also denied a suggestion by Mr Greenhall that he had “spat water at the protesters” during an incident where campaigners were walking in front of contractors’ vehicles.
Jake Webb, an evidence gatherer employed to record events at protests, told the court he had seen Compin at “over half-a-dozen” fellings previous to January 10.
“I can tell by his French accent and he normally carries a guitar with him,” he said.
Cross-examining, Mr Greenhall said Mr Webb’s statement to the court about the incident said: “I was informed by my colleagues that the protester is Benoit Compin”. Mr Greenhall said the statement made no mention of seeing him on previous occasions.
January 16, 2018: Simon Crump
Videos played to the court showed Crump and two other protesters standing arm-in-arm while he held on to park railings close to a threatened tree in an attempt to prevent a safety zone being completed by the final barriers being joined together.
Crump is seen on the video saying: “It is not a safety zone. We are not in a safety zone, it is not complete.”
The two other protesters were eventually persuaded to leave their position, leaving Crump standing by the railings on his own. A further video showed him leaving the area.
Mr Powlesland said Crump had not delayed any work from taking place as a car that was parked underneath the tree had yet to be removed.
Darren Butt, account director for council contractor Amey, told the court he did believe Crump had prevented work from taking place.
He said a truck was on its way to remove the vehicle and while the tree could not have been fully felled, preparatory work could have taken place had Crump not been by the tree.
January 22, 2018: Paul Brooke
A video played to court showed a protester with their face covered being removed from a safety zone by a number of security guards as they attempted to cling on to park railings and another person on the other side of the railings tried to hold on to their arms.
Moments after the masked protester started screaming, other people are seen on the video pushing at another metal barrier, which fell over. Brooke is seen on the video swearing and kicking a barrier.
A group of people then surrounded a threatened tree, forming a human chain around it.
March 5, 2018: Benoit Compin
Compin is seen on a video taken on Abbeydale Park Rise climbing a threatened tree and shouting at workers attempting to persuade him to come down and leave the safety zone.
He is seen on the video saying: “I’m here on behalf of the people. I serve the people so f*** off. I’m a public servant. You are all criminals.”
It followed an incident moments earlier where he had become involved in a confrontation with security guards who had been in the process of removing a female campaigner from inside the metal fencing.
The case continues tomorrow and is expected to conclude on Thursday.