A call has been made to investigate the 'repressive' arrests of Sheffield tree-felling campaigners after charges were dropped against two men.
It comes after prosecutors dropped charges against Simon Crump aged 56, of Heeley, and Calvin Payne, 44, of Nether Edge, who were arrested while trying to save a 100-year-old tree in November, 2016.
They were detained under trade union laws on suspicion of preventing tree surgeons from carrying out their work.
The pair were due to face trial on Thursday, March 9, but were told on Friday the Crown Prosecution Service had dropped its case 'on the basis that it is not in the public’s interest to prosecute'.
Mr Crump welcomed the CPS decision, which he said 'affirms our right to peaceful protest'.
His partner, the Green party councillor Alison Teal, was arrested along with six others earlier this month while trying to prevent trees from being chopped down in Chippinghouse Road, Nether Edge.
Mr Crump said: “It is frightening to be caught up in a situation where a powerful multinational corporation appears to have South Yorkshire police on speed dial.
“I thought the job of the police was to keep the community safe, not to lock them up because they’re slowing down profit reaping.”
The decision paves the way for charges to be withdrawn against nine others arrested in the long-running and increasingly bitter dispute over the future of Sheffield’s trees.
The row made international headlines when a 70-year-old emeritus professor and a 71-year-old retired teacher, both women, were arrested in a 'dawn raid' by council contractor Amey who ordered residents out of bed to remove their cars before taking the axe to eight old trees.
Charges against the pair were dropped at court after an outcry among campaigners.
Natalie Bennett, the former Green party leader planning to stand for election in Sheffield Central, welcomed the CPS decision but called for the Rev Dr Alan Billings, the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner, to investigate the arrests.
She said: “We should never have got into this situation, in which repressive anti-trade union legislation was being used against peaceful protesters seeking to protect the health and well being of their communities.
“The Crown Prosecution Service has saved the South Yorkshire police and the council from the mess into which they had got themselves. This sensible decision is to be applauded.”
Bennett added: “The police and crime commissioner must now look into how the police came to take this clearly unwise, and possibly illegal, action.
“It leaves the council in a position where it really has no alternative but to put the tree-felling programme on hold and to entirely rethink the management of street trees.
“The council and private sector company Amey have been acting without the consent of the community, and if they continue to try to do that they are going to continue to encounter peaceful, clearly lawful, resistance.”
The fight for Sheffield’s trees has its roots in a £2bn private finance initiative deal signed by the Labour-run council in 2012. The contractor Amey is tasked with maintaining the city’s 36,000 roadside trees as part of a road maintenance agreement.
The council said it has removed fewer than one per cent of the four million trees across the city and that those chopped down were deemed 'dangerous, dead, dying or diseased'.