Sheffield tree campaigners avoid jail sentences for breaching injunction

Three anti-tree felling campaigners have avoided jail sentences after they were found in contempt of court for breaching an injunction stopping them going inside work safety zones during controversial protests in Sheffield.

Creative writing lecturer Simon Crump, songwriting magician Benoit Compin and retired primary school teacher Fran Grace were found in contempt by a judge at the High Court in Sheffield on Thursday following a three-day hearing of an action brought by Sheffield City Council.

The judge, Mr Justice Males, gave both Crump and Compin a two-month prison sentence, suspended for one year.

He decided no further punishment was appropriate for grandmother Grace.

Sheffield anti-tree felling protesters
Sheffield anti-tree felling protesters

The judge ruled that the trio had breached an injunction obtained by the council last year which 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.

He said he would reserve judgment on a fourth defendant - Paul Brooke - as he said there were further legal issues to consider.

The judge said he would also rule on costs at a later date.

The controversial tree-felling programme in Sheffield is currently paused following a fresh series of confrontations earlier this year which saw dozens of police deployed and protesters arrested.

The dispute surrounds a 25-year, £2.2 billion private finance initiative agreement the council signed with contractor Amey.

Tree felling in Sheffield
Tree felling in Sheffield

The contract includes a huge programme to resurface thousands of miles of Sheffield's pothole-ridden road system and, as part of this, Amey is tasked with maintaining roadside trees.

The council says only a small proportion of the city's 36,000 street trees are being removed because they are diseased or dangerous, but protesters say many of the trees are being felled simply because their roots are getting in the way of resurfacing methods.

Earlier this year, the council released previously redacted details of the contract at the heart of the dispute which campaigners said showed that 17,500 trees would be earmarked for destruction.

Council leaders said that figure was only a contingency, and not a target, with the likely end total being a maximum of 10,000.

The hearing on Thursday was packed with supporters of the four defendants.

Last year, another protester, Calvin Payne, was given a suspended sentence and ordered to pay £16,000 in costs after he was found to be in breach of the order.