Two pensioners who were arrested after a standoff with police over the controversial chopping down of trees in Sheffield have said they feel “relief, grief and anger” after prosecutors dropped the case against them.
Jenny Hockey, a 70-year-old retired university professor, and Freda Brayshaw, a 72-year-old retired teacher, were held for eight hours in police cells following a dawn raid on their quiet residential street in November.
There were cheers outside Sheffield magistrates court and shouts of “Power to the people!” when prosecutors announced they would drop public order charges against the pair on Thursday morning.
Hockey and Brayshaw were bundled into police cars when they stepped over a ribbon to protect roadside trees after being woken by contractors and police officers at 4.30am asking residents to move their cars.
The arrests at Rustlings Road were described by Nick Clegg, the Sheffield Hallam MP, as “something you would expect to see in Putin’s Russia, rather than a Sheffield suburb”.
The council later apologised for the “disruption and distress” caused by the dawn raid and said it would not repeat the tactics.
Speaking outside court surrounded by supporters, Brayshaw said: “We live in a democracy and when I opened that door and the dawn raid happened it did not feel that way.”
Brayshaw, who is celebrating her 72nd birthday on Thursday, said she planned to mark it with a quiet meal – although she had not planned anything in advance because she did not know how the court hearing would go.
Hockey said she no longer felt safe on the street since the arrest, which has become a lightning rod for anger over the council’s plans to chop down thousands of roadside trees in the South Yorkshire city.
She said: “It’s an area we feel safe and not under threat and that has changed. When you have noises outside there’s now a sense that those powers that be could intrude into your life.
“It’s a massive relief but not a huge surprise. I think the whole thing is just very hard to get to the bottom of. A lot of questions have been asked of all sorts of bodies and very few answers have been forthcoming.”
Hockey added: “The worst thing is we’re now living on a road that had eight beautiful, healthy trees that were doing all sorts of work for us for free and now we’re looking at plastic barriers.
“You recover from the arrest and it’s like any loss, slowly you feel grief and anger. It was so unnecessary. These were healthy trees with very long life expectancy. This is not a sustainable approach. We need sustainable management of our open forest. What they have done at the moment is like creating a hole in the ozone layer.”
The fight for Sheffield’s trees has its roots in a £2bn private finance initiative (PFI) deal signed by the Labour-run council in 2012. The contractor Amey is tasked with maintaining the city’s 36,000 roadside trees as part of a road maintenance agreement.
Natalie Bennett, the former Green party leader who plans to stand in the next Sheffield Central constituency election, said she was “absolutely delighted” with the outcome.
“The CPS saw the error of its ways and is now doing the right thing,” she said.
“If you look at what the council did that morning – the 5am raid, the door knocks – the only explanation you can come up with is they thought they would break the tree campaign by making people feel it was hopeless. Instead the campaign has become so much stronger.”
Bennett urged the council to “grow a backbone” and tell Amey, its private contractor, to change course over the felling of trees during road repair work.
She added: “It’s the middle of the night and police knock on your door, and you would think someone’s died, someone’s been in a car accident – that’s a massive shock, a massive fright, and totally unnecessary. So why were the police doing that? They have said they won’t do it again – great – but we have still got to ask why they were doing it in the first place.”
Louise Wilcockson, a founder of Save Our Rustlings Trees, added: “It’s a real relief today and it is a victory for common sense.
“However, I believe that Jenny Hockey and Freda Brayshaw and the other concerned party should never have had to go through this. It’s the bully-boy tactics that are being levelled towards the campaigners. We are protectors not protesters.
“If Sheffield council were a football team they would have the biggest number of own goals. They have scored a real own goal today and they need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money.”
Photo credit: @joshhalliday Twitter