The controversy over tree-felling in Sheffield looks likely to continue well into next year after the trial date of two campaigners facing criminal charges was set for March.
Simon Crump, aged 56, of Heeley, and Calvin Payne, 44, of Nether Edge, appeared at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court last Thursday charged with ‘hindering’ workers from council contractor Amey.
The pair were arrested in November on Marden Road, Nether Edge, while protesting against the felling of a mature London plane tree. They denied the charges, and will return to the court on March 9 to stand trial.
Two women in their 70s - Freda Brayshaw and Jenny Hockey - were also arrested along with a younger man during the bitterly-opposed felling on Rustlings Road on November 17, which began at 5am. Their cases are waiting to proceed.
Around 150 demonstrators gathered outside the magistrates building on Snig Hill, to hear speakers including former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, who said the legal charges brought ‘the whole law into utter disrepute’.
After his appearance, Mr Payne said he and Mr Crump wanted to ‘test the legislation’.
“We want to say these arrests shouldn’t have happened, the ones on Rustlings Road shouldn’t have happened. We want to make it official that the protests going on for the last 18 months are lawful, peaceful, legal and people can engage with them and defend their communities.”
Mr Crump added: “All this shows that people will not just lie down and let this happen in their communities. The support has been amazing, it’s really overwhelming.”
This week South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said decisions to cut down the Rustlings Road trees, including the 5am start, whether to close the road and ask people to move cars were for the council and Amey.
However, in a letter to Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg, he said the incident had still caused ‘reputational damage’ to South Yorkshire Police ‘at a time when it cannot afford it’.
Mr Clegg also spoke about tree-felling in Parliament this week. In response, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “It sounds like the balance that is so importantly trodden between peaceful protest and responding to the law may have been slightly handled in a rather tricky way.”