Home Secretary questions handling of Sheffield tree arrests

Jenny Hockey and Freda Brayshaw (right) who were arrested by police after protesting against a controversial tree felling programme, while contractors started cutting down trees with chainsaws before dawn in Rustlings Road, Sheffield. Pic: PA
Jenny Hockey and Freda Brayshaw (right) who were arrested by police after protesting against a controversial tree felling programme, while contractors started cutting down trees with chainsaws before dawn in Rustlings Road, Sheffield. Pic: PA
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Home Secretary Amber Rudd has questioned police tactics which saw three people arrested for trying to stop trees being cut down in Sheffield.

Three people, including two pensioners, were arrested on November 17 for trying to prevent Sheffield Council contractors Amey removing trees on Rustlings Road.

The move caused huge national controversy after the council and police arrived on the street at 5am in the morning to start the ‘street improvement’ work in a bid to stop protesters disrupting it.

Ms Rudd said the matter appeared to have been handled in ‘a rather tricky way’ and questioned whether police had got the balance right between ensuring the law is upheld and allowing peaceful protest.

The issue was raised in Parliament on Monday afternoon by Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg.

The Lib Dem told Ms Rudd he had spoken to one of the arrested pensioners.

He said: “Last Thursday, I met Jenny Hockey, a 70-year-old retired sociology lecturer who was extraordinarily arrested on November 17 in a council-directed dawn raid to chop down six trees on her street with the assistance of 12 officers from South Yorkshire Police against, it now turns out, the views of the local police and crime commissioner.

“What assurances can she give that councils do not drag police officers in the future into such absurd draconian initiatives?”

Ms Rudd said Mr Clegg was right to raise the matter in the House of Commons.

“The fact is of course it is a local matter. It sounds like the balance that is so importantly tread between peaceful protest and responding to the law may have been slightly handled in a rather tricky way in his own constituency,” she said.

“While I would always urge peaceful protest to be allowed, I wonder sometimes whether police forces get the right balance in terms of the example he has given.”

It comes after police commissioner Alan Billings said the force had only become involved due to a lack of council staff to alert homeowners to move cars as the trees were removed.