Security staff have been drafted in to keep protesters away from trees due to be felled as part of a road improvement scheme in Sheffield.
Sheffield Council contractor, Amey, said it was left with 'no option' but to bring in 'a professional stewarding company' to deal with protesters attempting to halt felling work by entering cordons put in place around trees due to be brought down.
Amey claims the trees it has earmarked for felling are dead, diseased or damaging or obstructing pavements, but objectors disagree and have mounted a campaign to save them.
Following a series of stand-offs between both sides at tree felling sites, a High Court judge granted Sheffield City Council an injunction which prevents people from entering, or encouraging others to enter, safety zones erected around trees.
Photographs and videos emerged yesterday of security staff confronting tree felling objectors who breached the injunction.
Sheffield Tree Action Group supporter, Paul Grimshaw, said he witnessed an incident in Lismore Road, Meersbrook, yesterday.
“I saw the campaigner arrive and start to scale the fence. The security staff and Amey workers were caught off guard and ran in a panic to where the campaigner was climbing the fence," he said.
"Two security men, neither of whom were, as far as I could see, wearing security ID badges, tried to physically pull the campaigner down from the fence with scant regard for his or her safety or wellbeing.
"The campaigner evaded their grasp and vaulted the top of the fence to land safely inside.
"At this point he or she was violently manhandled by two further staff. Despite clear warnings from watching members of the public that they should leave the protester alone and that their actions constituted assault, the two men repeatedly engaged in physical manhandling of the campaigner even after he or she had fallen to the floor.
“What I witnessed today was the purest form of reprehensible bullying by people who seem to think that because they are working for the council they are above both the law and basic decent standards of human behaviour.”
STAG claims that cordons around trees have started to be erected by Amey workers in the middle of the night to prevent protesters from getting close to trees under threat before contractors arrive.
South Yorkshire Police said the force received 'a number of third party reports' of disputes in Lismore Road, Abbeydale Park Rise and Crescent Road yesterday.
A spokeswoman said: "Officers attended in order to keep the peace."
An Amey spokeswoman said: "We welcome peaceful protest and ask people to respect our staff, the local residents and the injunction. Unfortunately, some protesters are continuing to enter our legally-defined safety zones around trees, potentially putting their own, and our safety at risk.
"Continued disruption has left us with no option but to ask a professional stewarding company to help us keep people safe and within the law by preventing them from entering safety zones. This follows numerous attempts to explain to protesters that contravening Sheffield City Council’s injunction is an offence. It is a reluctant step, but one we feel we have no choice taking and for which we have the council’s support.
"The actions of a small number of protesters, including threatening comments, have been escalating. The pictures on STAG’s Facebook page and circulated on Twitter today show a masked protester who broke into our safety zone in Lismore Road today. What they don’t show is that he was carrying scissors, which were seen protruding from a plastic bag.
"He was temporarily restrained due to personal security concerns for himself and members of our onsite team. He continued to disrupt our work, but was cordoned off from the remainder of the site and eventually left. Police have been informed and a resident who witnessed the incident has provided a statement.
"In this instance, stewards were on site and acted swiftly and professionally to contain the situation, but actions like this are wholly unacceptable and will be reported to the police."
She said that the private security firm is being paid for by Amey and that is is a 'highly professional firm whose personnel are trained and experienced in the safe management of people'.
She added: "We are confident in their professionalism and will only tolerate exemplary conduct. However, should we receive an allegation we would treat it very seriously. Our staff wear body cameras and this can be reviewed if an allegation is made."
A Sheffield Council spokeswoman said: "Despite having High Court backing, city-wide support for the Streets Ahead programme, including a 600-strong increase in the number of street trees, Amey workers are being met with increasing intimidation from a small group of people who are disrupting the programme.
"Meanwhile, residents are facing impassable footpaths, cracking walls and roots breaking into their cellars.
"Many are afraid to speak out about this - with one resident privately admitting to the council that he no longer asks his grandchildren to visit him because of the masked people outside his house, while another has complained of people in masks sat outside his house at 6.30am in the morning.
“This is totally unacceptable in our city in 2017.
“Therefore, Amey will employ all lawful and safe methods to complete as much of the work as possible on the remaining 250 trees over the coming weeks.
"Peaceful protest can continue, but attempts to stop the work will be resisted, so that residents in areas where work is still to be completed will get the improvements to their roads, paths and lights that they deserve, including the replacement of trees which are damaging their streets and properties."
There are about four million trees in Sheffield, of which about 36,000 are street trees.
Amey plans to fell 6,000 in the first five years of the road improvement programme.
Felled trees are being replaced plus an extra 600 are to be planted across the city.