The legal situation

 Autumn beech leaves - Fran Halsall

June 2017:

Injunctions issued against residents and protestors

““LawAt the end of June SCC handed out ‘Pre-Action Protocol’ Letters to 17 named protestors, letters which warned of the council’s intention to proceed with injunctions against these individuals unless they signed a commitment to cease certain activities. On 29th June residents attending a threatened felling on Abbeydale Park Rise (APR) were given a standard pre-action letter addressed to ‘Persons Unknown’.  As most of APR’s residents have have had limited involvement in the tree campaign, aside from defending the trees on their street, they were unprepared for such a heavy-handed response from the Council and are understandably upset, especially as these letters were handed to people who were simply looking on. 

For updates on this ongoing situation please visit Sheffield Tree Action Groups News

Pre-Action Protocol Letter – addressed to ‘Persons Unknown’.
Statement of Case to be presented at the High Court.
Undertaking to Sheffield City Council that all recipients are asked to sign. 


May 2017:

Traffic orders

Throughout May SCC and Amey have come up with many obstacles in their ongoing attempts to prevent lawful peaceful protest. Back in April notices preventing pedestrians from entering work areas started appearing, although these warnings were not followed up with any action by the council or Amey.  In late May numerous street signs, along with a notice in the Sheffield Telegraph, declared SCC’s intention to introduce ‘Temporary Prohibition of Pedestrians’ orders, under Section 14(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.  These orders are to apply to all streets where trees are earmarked for felling and last for an 18 month period.

The following is an extract from the order:

4. Whilst the order is in effect it will prohibit any person from using, including entering or remaining in, those areas of highway demarcated by the erection of safety barriers and indicated by the display of notices within the highways listed in the Schedule.

Protestors issued with warnings while attending fellings

In the week beginning 22nd May the felling campaign reached new heights.  Notices (see picture below) were displayed on streets and tree-protectors were issued with a letter from SCC and Amey, which includes a somewhat loosely worded warning about illegal behaviour.  The notices mention both the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Highways Act 1980, however these acts are primarily concerned with the responsibilities of Local Authorities and contractors – not members of the public.     

SCC Barrister’s opinion on legality of protests 

Some weeks ago, STAG were given a notice by SCC and were asked to forward it to campaign supporters.  The STAG steering group felt that distributing the notice would be doing the council’s job for them and so declined the request.  Although the notice suggested that there was a ‘clear distinction’ between peaceful protest and lawbreaking, the steering group could find nothing within the wording of the notice that specifically supported SCC’s position.    

STAG followed it up with a letter to SCC’s Chief Executive requesting a clearer explanation. Their reply seemingly includes a Barrister’s opinion complete with complex reasoning as to why protesting tree felling may be illegal.  Considering the legal opinion in context with the existing notices preventing pedestrian access inside work zones, it would appear that SCC and Amey are co-ordinating a plan to ensure felling goes ahead by limiting access to public space and denying the right to protect trees, a public asset. 

The next development was the issue of pre-process letters for the injunction case (see above). Clearly SCC have been planning this for many months but we had only a few days to repspond and organise a defence.   

Oversail refusal letter

Contractors are legally obliged to seek permission from the householders to undertake any work that oversails the airspace above their home, whether it be owner-occupied or rented.  Wherever access to private land is necessary, even when setting up safety zones under condemned trees, contractors should always obtain the consent of the householder before work begins.     

Any Sheffield resident, regardless of whether or not you live next to a threatened tree, can download and fill in the ‘Oversail Refusal’ letter, post it to Amey and help draw their legal department’s attention to the need obtain consent prior to felling.  An accompanying poster is also available.  

By sending Amey this letter you are confirming that you do not grant them the necessary permissions, should they ever need to work above your home and garden.  This is an important point to make because Amey have so far been taking this permission for granted without seeking consent of the householder.  

 


February 2017:

Friday 10th February 2017

On Chippinghouse Road, Nether Edge, Chris Rust delivered a ‘warning’ letter to Insp. Stubbs of South Yorkshire Police (SYP).  It explained STAG’s belief that the police’s decision to arrest and otherwise issue warnings to protestors is actually unlawful.  STAG’s position reflects the fact that people have been arrested during peaceful protests on public highways and while standing on private property with the householder’s consent.  In a unexpected development, a householder was herself threatened with arrest while on her own property unless she moved out of the felling zone.

Monday 13th February 2017

Inspector Stubbs gave us SYP’s response to the warning letter – the police concluded that STAG had not provided any legal arguments that would prevent them from acting upon the advice given by their solicitor,  permitting arrests under Section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 to continue.       

That same morning, when police arrived to halt protestors gathered on St. Ronan’s Road, Nether Edge, Chris Rust handed Insp. Stubbs legal advice prepared by barrister, Paul Powlesland.  It outlines questions raised by the arrests and warnings issued at both Marden and Chippinghouse Roads under ‘Section 241’.  This includes what is considered to be an arrestable offence under this act, in particular the locations where the arrests and warnings took place. In light of this, SYP swiftly pulled back from enforcing Section 241 on St. Ronan’s Road and at Chiltern Road in Hillsborough, so that their solicitor could review the new advice.    

While still on St. Ronan’s Road, Chris Rust also presented Insp. Stubbs with a warning in relation to trespass and ‘oversailing’, recommending that this information be shared with Amey’s Tree Work Supervisor.  This document was prepared by Julia Bodle, a campaign supporter, and it highlights trespass law and the need for contractors to obtain an ‘oversail license’.   Making this absolutely clear is essential as it affects the right to protest on private property and whether Amey, the principal contractor, has proceeded lawfully during its tree felling work.

SYP have passed on this warning, and the advice from Paul Powlesland, to their solicitor. 

Legal expenses fundraiser

Sheffield City Council have taken steps to issue injunctions against prominent campaigners. This could prove to be expensive…

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