Friday, 23 March 2018

The Tooting One ~ Protests about tree-felling in Sheffield

A lady was arrested in Sheffield.  She was protesting about the felling of trees and was, seemingly to the annoyance of a "member of the public", blowing a "toy trumpet."  It would appear that the same member of the public was unperturbed by the chain saw noise!  It is not clear why the Police felt it necessary to prioritise the complaint over her seemingly mild protest.

The story is briefly reported in the media - e.g. The Sun 23rd March- Police said the arrest on Rivelin Valley Road on the outskirts of the city had been made following a complaint about the horn-blowing from a member of the public.   A police spokeswoman said: "A 57-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of causing intentional harm or distress, under Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986. She has been reported on summons."

The Guardian report 22nd March - offers a link to a VIDEO of the events in Sheffield.  The Guardian highlights some other arrests -

"A 49-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence and accepted a fixed penalty notice ...."

"A 65-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of obstructing work under section 303 of the Highways Act 1980. A number of other people at the site were also reported on summons under section 303 ...."  [Link added].

Thousands of street trees in the city are being felled and replaced with saplings as part of a PFI highways maintenance contract. Campaigners object to what they say is the unnecessary removal of healthy trees.

The South Yorkshire Police website gives some details of arrests in connection with the tree felling at a different location - "At the site of tree-work at Chatsworth Road, Sheffield today, Thursday 22 March 2018, South Yorkshire Police made two arrests. One woman was arrested on suspicion of Obstructing the Highway under section 303 of the Highways Act 1980. A second woman, aged 53, was arrested on suspicion of Obstructing a Constable under section 89 of the Police Act 1996."  [Link added - I think they are referring to section 89(2) Obstruction].

Arrest on suspicion:

The various reports refer to arrest (or arrested) on "suspicion" of an offence having been committed. An arrest on suspicion is governed by section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

(1) A constable may arrest without a warrant -

(a) anyone who is about to commit an offence;

(b) anyone who is in the act of committing an offence;

(c) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be about to commit an offence;

(d) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an offence.

Importantly, the power of summary arrest in section 24 is exercisable only where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the arrest is necessary for any of the reasons mentioned in subsection 5.  A common justification put forward is subsection 5(a) - "to enable the name of the person in question to be ascertained (in the case where the constable does not know, and cannot readily ascertain, the person's name, or has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given by the person as his name is his real name);  or the similar subsection 6(a) to obtain the person's address. 

Section 4A:

This is by no means the least serious of the Public Order Act 1986 offences.  Section 4A was inserted by the rather illiberal Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.  The section 4A offence is triable in the Magistrates' Court and is an imprisonable offence.

4A Intentional harassment, alarm or distress.

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he -

(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harassed, alarmed or distressed is also inside that or another dwelling.

(3) It is a defence for the accused to prove -

(a) that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or

(b) that his conduct was reasonable.

The section is therefore clearly aimed at threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour.  Also, the individual has to have intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress.  Watch the video and make your own mind up about those matters.


Sheffield City Council obtained injunctions from the High Court relating to what appears to be the whole of Sheffield.   "Sheffield City Council has been successful in seeking injunctions against those trespassing within safety barriers around tree replacement works .... anyone trespassing inside a safety zone after 22 August 2017 will be in contempt of court and face the risk of a fine and/or imprisonment.

The High Court's judgment is Sheffield City Council v Fairhall, Crump, Teal and others [2017] EWHC 2121 (QB)


An election will be held in May 2018 for Sheffield City Council.  Perhaps the voters in Sheffield will exercise their democratic right and not elect councillors who are supportive of the tree-felling policy.

Any right to peaceful protest now seems to be a very minimal right given the vast array of criminal offences available and civil sanctions (injunctions).

Freedom of Information:

See the outcome of Freedom of Information requests relating to the trees

Media Links:

The Guardian view on Sheffield's trees

Update 27th March:

ITV News - Tree felling programme temporarily halted

Yorkshire Post 26th March - Sheffield Council blames 'increasingly dangerous' protesters as partial tree-felling halt called


  1. I live in Sheffield and I am voting Green for the first time in my life in the Local Electiond in May on just this single issue. Not that I expect it to make any difference...

  2. Hi Obiter

    Thanks for this Informative Blog. But can you please tell me briefly about section 24?