11:10, October 31 67 0 theguardian.com

2017-10-31 11:10:03
Sheffield trees activist could face jail for flouting injunction

A campaigner could face up to two years in jail after being found guilty of breaching a court order while trying to stop trees being felled in Sheffield. Calvin Payne was found to have twice stepped inside so-called safety zones erected around trees due to be felled, in breach of an injunction brought by Sheffield city council.

He was also found guilty of breaking the court order by encouraging “as many people as possible” on Facebook to ignore the council’s order and try to save the trees.

Payne could face a two-year jail term when he is sentenced on Friday but may instead be offered the chance to “purge” his contempt and avoid a criminal record by apologising and promising not to break the injunction again.

The ruling by Mr Justice Stephen Males is the latest development in an increasingly bitter war between the Labour-run council and residents over the authority’s plans to chop down 5,500 mature trees in the city.

A further 500 trees have been earmarked for removal as part of the council’s six-year programme, many on the city’s leafiest and wealthiest streets. Residents have disputed the council’s claim that the trees are dead, dying or a hazard to pedestrians and need to be replaced.

The authority and Amey, the outsourcing company given a £2.2bn PFI deal to do the tree felling, have faced criticism for heavy-handed tactics and been accused of trying to criminalise protesters.

On Friday,Alison Teal, the Green party councillor for Nether Edge and Sharrow, was found not guilty of breaching the council’s court order.

On Tuesday, Payne was cleared of one allegation but found guilty of three, including using Facebook to post what the judge described as a “clear encouragement to others to breach the terms of the order”.

The case at Sheffield combined court heard that Payne had previously written on social media that he did not care if he was prosecuted. “I’d rather do what’s right than what the powers that be see as well-behaved and respectable,” he wrote.

In another post, he wrote: “It has taken methods that may be illegal, but there are bigger principles than upholding the law in play now.”

Payne chose not to give evidence in his defence, according to the judgment, and had not responded to the Guardian’s request for comment at the time of publication.

Speaking outside court on Friday, Payne said: “The Facebook post is there. I don’t regret it, it reflects my genuine feelings. I believe we are in a pretty sorry state of affairs when preventing the destruction of trees on our streets is against the law, but the destruction itself isn’t.”

A Sheffield City council spokeswoman said: “We welcome the judge’s findings as published today. The court has clearly found Calvin Payne guilty of three counts of contempt. As the judge’s ruling shows, the dismissal of the claim against Ms Teal was on a technicality and we hope she will now respect the court’s ruling in future so we can continue the vital work to improve the city’s street scene. We will now ask Amey to review and amend its working practices as a result of the court’s definition of a safety zone. The council and Amey will continue to ensure that those who breach the injunction are brought to court.”