Police will continue to arrest Sheffield tree protesters if they attempt to illegally prevent their removal, chief constable Stephen Watson has said.
Mr Watson said council contractors involved in the tree-felling process ‘have the right not to be harassed or assaulted or impeded or anything of the sort’.
His comments at a police meeting follow controversy over police support for a pre-dawn council operation to remove trees from Rustlings Road, which resulted in three protesters, including two pensioners, being arrested.
Two other men have also been arrested over a previous tree protest demonstration in Nether Edge and have been charged under Section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
At a public accountability board meeting in Sheffield, member of the public Alan Kewley asked what has happened to the residents who were arrested on Rustlings Road.
He said their case ‘has caused concern in adjacent areas which will be subject to similar tree-felling operations by Sheffield Council and its contractor Amey, which some local residents may oppose’.
Mr Watson said the cases of the arrested Rustlings Road protesters are subject to a legal process.
“It would be wrong for me to talk directly to the circumstances of those individuals arrested,” he said.
But Mr Watson added the force will continue to provide support to tree-felling operations in Sheffield if required - but not in the same way that was done on Rustlings Road, where officers knocked on doors in the early hours of the morning to tell residents to move their cars ahead of the trees being chopped down due to a lack of available council staff.
“Our position with regards to tree-felling activities is this is a matter for the local authority,” he said.
“If they choose to fell trees in a lawful way, we have a role to play in preventing a breach of the peace.”
He said officers involved with the Rustlings Road operation had been trying to be ‘helpful’ but ‘gave the impression they were part of the operation’.
Mr Watson said in future officers will stand separately to any tree-felling operation and only become involved if required to do so.
“Workers have a right not to be harassed or assaulted or impeded or anything of the sort,” he said.
“Peaceful protest will be facilitated as we do all the time.”
But he said arrests would be made if necessary when people ‘won’t take lawful direction’ about their behaviour.
“We seriously hope that won’t happen,” he said.
“I hope these things go off more easily and less consistently in the future.”