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Top cop's hopes of resolution in Sheffield tree felling saga

Police at one of Sheffield's tree felling sites.
Police at one of Sheffield's tree felling sites.
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South Yorkshire Police's top cop has said he hoped talks between Sheffield Council and campaigners over the ongoing tree replacement programme will come to a resolution 'that suits all parties'.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson said the force was 'reluctant participants' in the dispute with council contractor Amey carrying out works across the city.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson.

Works have been on hold since March following violent clashes between security staff and protesters, resulting in a number of arrests.

A High Court injunction remains in place aimed at curtailing some of the activities of anti tree-felling protesters and lawyers on both sides came to a compromise in July, which meant the injunction will be extended for a further 18 months, rather than the three years the council wanted.

The agreement also saw compromise around a number of detailed issues, including the definition of safety zones, the right to protest on private land and slow-walking demos.

Mr Watson said: "The policy around trees is entirely a matter for the local authority, not a matter for South Yorkshire Police.

"It's my fervent hope that we come to a resolution that will suit all parties because it is, frankly, something I could really do without - as could we all.

"We are reluctant participants in this. I have made it clear from the outset that I, personally, regret the fact that one or two individuals who have been of previous impeccable character have found themselves in a position where my officers have had to arrest them. This is not a good place for us to be.

"However, where people are asked lawfully and politely to desist from committing a criminal act, if they will not take heed of those warnings however oft repeated, then the fault for them being arrested lies firmly with them and that is, I am afraid the bottom line."

Mr Watson said police would always act in a 'professional, polite and impartial way' but officers would always 'upheld the law'.

He added: "I would be living under a rock if I hadn't understood that this has caused a great deal of disquiet and, in some quarters, has amounted to some real suspicions that somehow we are not independent and that's why I particular welcome the findings of the recently published report, commissioned by the police and crime commissioner's independent ethics panel, and their central finding is that there is no evidence that we are nothing other than we are professional and impartial.

"It's all very well people asserting that we are not impartial but assertions that we are un-evidenced are exactly that. My view is that we are professional, we are impartial but we are reluctant participants in a process which has, frankly, cost a lot of money and created some real anxiety.

"I am confident that the local authority are working very hard to chart a different route going forward."