I was astonished to read in The Star, that the inestimably well-qualified cabinet member for environment, Coun Bryan Lodge, has written to my elected representative, Alison Teal, to threaten civil proceedings against her unless she desists from lawful and peaceful protest.
Despite Coun Lodge’s repeated use of the word “unlawful” in the letter, it is an indisputable fact that neither Alison, nor any of the other Sheffield council taxpayers demonstrating against the removal of street trees, have been tried for, let alone found guilty of, breaking any law or bye-law.
In fact her case, when she was arrested, was thrown out by the CPS, who said “(they) have now fully reviewed all the evidence presented to (them) and concluded that there is insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction, so the cases have been discontinued.”
The police and the CPS have stated publicly that they have no interest in pursuing criminal proceedings against peaceful demonstrators, and it seems this has excited Coun Lodge sufficiently for him to threaten civil proceedings.
The proposed legislation under which demonstrators were arrested in the most recent debacle is wildly inappropriate trade union law (section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992), aimed at preventing disruption to national utilities rather than quashing lawful and peaceful environmental protest.
Threatening vexatious litigation against fellow councillors is not a suitable use of councillors’ time or council taxpayer’s money under any circumstances.
To suggest spending precious council funds on preparing civil proceedings against a serving opposition councillor, who is representing and championing the views of her constituents, and demonstrating solidarity with them, is beyond parody.
Coun Lodge is naive if he thinks this kind of behaviour is in the interests of the city and its people.
Heavy-handed, illiberal tactics like this merely demonstrate a lack of understanding of the situation and an unwillingness to engage with opposing points of view in an open and democratic way – surely the very purpose of having councillors and a council in the first place?
I am not a natural protester or demonstrator, but actions like these are likely to prompt me, and many others, to lend our weight and support to our elected representative in a more direct form in future.
Nether Edge, Sheffield