A Sheffield tree campaigner has been spared jail - but will have to pay the city council £16,000 in legal costs.
Calvin Payne could have been sentenced to up to two years in prison for three times breaching an injunction stopping people from protesting inside safety zones set up around trees - and encouraging people to do the same.
The court order was brought by Sheffield Council after protesters repeatedly stood underneath trees due to be felled under the Streets Ahead PFI contract.
Payne appeared in front of High Court judge Mr Justice Stephen Males at Sheffield Crown Court yesterday morning, where he was given a three-month prison sentence, suspended for a year.
But the campaigner was ordered to pay £16,000 in costs to the council.
Before the hearing, dozens of fellow members of the tree campaign gathered for a rally outside court to praise Payne for his ‘dedication’ to the cause and the public gallery applauded after the sentence was passed.
Mr Justice Males told Payne he could have had ‘no complaint’ if he was handed an immediate prison sentence and added: “This is your final chance.”
Speaking after sentencing, Payne said: “I’m slightly relieved to be here. As you could hear in there, it was a close run thing.”
He said his actions were ‘peaceful, proportionate and justified’ and added: “I think Sheffield is better for it.”
Payne breached the injunction - and was therefore in contempt of court - when on October 6 he posted on the Save Netherthorpe Trees Facebook page: "What I would really like is for as many people as possible to break the injunction on Monday morning."
He also entered safety zones in Kenwood Road, Nether Edge, on September 28 and 29.
Paul Powlesland, defending, said: “This is not a case where Mr Payne has acted for any personal gain whatsoever.
“In terms of the Facebook posting, it is obvious what he is saying, but there is no evidence that anyone was incited to break the injunction as a result of that posting.”
The judgment also referred to other incidents, which although they did not constitute contempt, Mr Justice Males said demonstrated Payne’s ‘’attitude’’.
This included a comment he wrote on a Facebook post on October 6 about people getting arrested, which said: ‘’That’s a risk we’ll have to take. I no longer care.
“I’d rather do what’s right than be what the powers that be see as well-behaved and respectable.”
City councillor Alison Teal was cleared of breaching the injunction at a hearing on Friday last week. The case against another campaigner, Siobhan O'Malley, was dropped after she signed an undertaking not to disobey the court order.
A council spokesman welcomed ‘the clear message’ the decision sent about ‘the need to respect the injunction’.
He added: “We hope people will now protest peacefully outside safety zones, without breaching the injunction and allow the council to undertake its lawful work on the highway.
"Any further breaches of the injunction will leave the council with no other option but to pursue further court action.”