Sheffield tree protest jail threat supported by council
Sheffield City Council is willing to have its citizens jailed over the Sheffield tree protests, a court has heard.
The council has taken four protesters to the High Court in Sheffield.
Paul Brooke, Simon Crump, Benoit Compin and Fran Grace are all said to have breached an injunction, imposed last July, by obstructing tree-felling.
The judge, Mr Justice Males, halted proceedings to ask if the jail threat was supported by the council leader.
The judge told the court, packed with supporters of the protesters: "This is a serious application. The council is seeking to commit Sheffield citizens to prison for contempt."
'An odd thing'
He said he wanted "reassurance" that the application was brought on the instructions of democratically-elected councillors, and said it would be "an odd thing" for him to be asked to imprison people unless the council confirmed that intention.
Following a break, Yaaser Vanderman, the barrister representing the council, confirmed that the authority supported the measures.
He spoke to a senior council official who spoke to council leader Julie Dore, and said: "She positively agreed that proceedings should be brought."
The hearing is expected to last three days.
The dispute surrounds a 25-year, £2.2bn contract between the council and Amey.
The contract includes a huge programme to resurface thousands of miles of Sheffield's road system and, as part of this, Amey is tasked with maintaining roadside trees.
The council says only street trees which are diseased, damaged or dangerous are being removed.
But protesters say many are felled because their roots are simply in the way of resurfacing methods.
Campaigner Calvin Payne has already been given a suspended sentence and ordered to pay £16,000 costs for breaching the council's injunction.
There is currently a moratorium on tree-felling, and in March councillor Bryan Lodge resigned as cabinet member for Environment and Street Scene over "abuse" he was receiving.