Massive police action based on lies

Police in Sheffield plan a hugely increased presence in support of multinational corporation Amey and its contractor Acorn. Their plan: to crack down on peaceful residents, pensioners, and others, who are protesting the senseless destruction of healthy trees, which is taking place against all expert opinion. Their justification: lies.

Here’s what was happening before the pause in fellings a few weeks ago. There was a repeated, full-scale assault on Meersbrook Park Road, a residential street that voted overwhelmingly to keep its trees (and the council’s own Independent Tree Panel agreed in most cases). Elderly residents with zimmer frames and canes stood under their own trees in the freezing cold weather to save them, and campaigners came in from elsewhere to help. Hired security forces descended, assaulting protesters — even landing a crystal clear uppercut as in this video.

Just to be very clear about what happened on Meersbrook Park Road, here’s what the protesters looked like.

Maureen. Photo by Luis Arroyo
Photo by Luis Arroyo

And here’s a letter that one resident wrote.

Here is how a passerby described what she witnessed.

“I was near to three people who were being removed. ‘Forcibly removing’ doesn’t capture the reality of what they did: prise fingers off railings, bending thumbs back (one resident shouted that it felt as if they were breaking his fingers); grabbing and bending the arms of the two women who had linked arms; pushing and squashing a man who yelled he was being crushed; dragging an elderly resident by the arms. There were at least 10 security mobbing a group of 3 protesters, two of whom I think were pensioners. It was awful to see people being treated this way, and the police looking on, impassive to the pleas of the protesters that they intervene and protect their right to peaceful protest. The onlooking neighbours were shouting to ‘leave them alone’, and the overwhelming sentiment expressed by the many onlookers was that Amey and these security crew were not wanted here. It’s upsetting to think that anyone might be treated in this way just for peacefully standing up for something they care about.”

The scene was so out of control that local Labour MP Louise Haigh (who may have heard the screams from her constituency office) described the situation as “unsustainable” and called for renewed negotiations.

After this, we had a pause in fellings for several weeks. More and more Labour groups came out as opposed to the Streets Ahead PFI, and in favour of a negotiated solution: Momentum, Heeley Constituency Labour Party, Gleadless Valley Labour Party, Broomhill and Sharrow Vale Labour Party, and Fulwood Labour Party. And we had further signs of hope: Amey, the council, and campaigners negotiated a solution for the Chelsea Elm, and on Friday campaigners stood by and watched as agreed pruning was carried out. One might have thought we’d found a good way forward.

But all that changed on the very day that the Chelsea Elm was pruned. Assistant Chief Constable David Harltey went on the radio and declared that there would soon be an increased police presence due to the events on Meersbrook Park Road. Incredibly, he described the behavior of the protestors as violent. He was asked about the clearly visible uppercut in the video footage and avoided the issue, describing security personnel as behaving in a “professional” manner. If their profession allows for punching of nonviolent protestors, then I suppose this is so. He cited two arrests of protestors for breaking the wrist of an arborist as evidence that it was protestors who were the problem.

You might wonder, hearing this, if perhaps there was a scary and violent side to the Meersbrook Park protests — after all, pensioners are not immune to rage in the right circumstances, and not everyone was over 60. It is true, I have learned, that some improperly erected barriers were toppled inadvertently. But an assault leading to a broken wrist? In fact, nobody has been charged with this at all. Moreover, Amey are required under Health and Safety legislation to report such injuries and a Freedom of Information Act request reveals absolutely no such report was made. Moreover, ACC Hartley made no mention of the ten tree campaigners who reported Amey employees for criminal offenses in January alone.

Painting your enemy as violent and aggressive is the oldest propaganda trick in the book — it has always been the way to justify martial law. It seems now to be how Sheffield City Council is justifying its decision to deploy dozens of officers to the streets of Nether Edge, Meersbrook, and other areas where residents seek to save their trees.

Starting today.