Prosecutors have been accused of wasting public money after charges were brought and then dropped against Sheffield tree campaigners who say they were simply exercising their ‘democratic right to protest’.
Public order charges against Jenny Hockey, aged 70, and Freda Brayshaw, 72, were discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service due to ‘lack of evidence’ – just moments before the hearing was scheduled to take place.
Mrs Hockey and Mrs Brayshaw had been accused of preventing lawful work to fell trees outside their homes in Rustlings Road during a stand-off with police officers and contractor Amey in November.
Speaking after the hearing, when the case was formally dropped at the eleventh hour, Mrs Brayshaw said she was angry public money had been wasted on bringing them to court.
She said: “I’m very angry about the waste of public money, and relieved of course, that we’ve been awarded costs. I think someone should have thought this through far more carefully, both when they arrested us and when they decided to give us a charge.”
Mrs Brayshaw, who was forced to attend court on her 72nd birthday yesterday, added: “When we had a summons for public order offences, talking about violent and threatening behaviour, that was hard to hear – when we were simply standing quietly in front of the trees with our arms down.”
The CPS agreed to pay costs of £150 towards each defendant’s legal bill.
Mrs Hockey called the case brought against them an attack on democracy and the right to protest.
She said: “This has been done to deter people from exercising their right to protest. The right to protest is something that needs to be protected, and I think we’re seeing more and more attempts to stop that, including this one.
“We’ve seen it with this and with protests against fracking.
“But we’re going to continue with this campaign.
“Our part of the journey has ended but we still want to carry on. If anything good is going to come out of this I hope it’s energising the campaign even more.”
Eoin Loveless, 25, charged alongside Hockey and Bradshaw, also walked out of court a free man.
He said: “I’m very happy. I turned out today to plead not guilty. I was exercising my right to peacefully protest and I think everyone should have a go at it in their lifetime.”
Lawyer Helen White, who represented the campaigners in court, said she was extremely surprised charges had been brought against the protesting pensioners in the first place.
She said: “No-one was more surprised than me when I was told that charges had been brought against my clients.
“I was even more surprised when they were originally arrested under trade union laws.
“They were then charged with public order offences when there was no evidence whatsoever of anyone using threatening behaviour or language.
“The charges were dropped, essentially, due to a lack of evidence.
“This has been a complete waste of public funds and I’m glad to see that common sense has prevailed.”
Commenting after the charges were dropped yesterday, a Sheffield City Council spokesman said: "“We would like to reiterate our apology for the way trees were taken down on Rustlings Road, and we respect people’s right to protest.”
Campaigners vow to continue their fight to save Sheffield’s trees
Pensioners Freda Brayshaw and Jenny Hockey left Sheffield Magistrates’ Court to cheers yesterday morning from the 50 protestors who turned out to support them.
And the pair say they have no intention of giving up their bid to save the city’s trees.
Mrs Hockey said: “It’s a huge relief, to some extent, to be able to get on with our lives but as long as there are trees being felled around us the campaign goes on.”
Campaigners from Sheffield’s Save Our Roadside Trees cheered ‘power to the people’ and sang Happy Birthday to Freda.
Deepa Shetty said: “Justice has been served. It has been an unnecessary struggle for the two of them – you don’t expect this to happen in Britain.
“They were nannies in nighties.
“They were woken at 5am - they thought relatives had died - and then they were arrested for standing outside their houses in their nightgowns.
“I don’t think the council even know themselves why they were arrested.”
Sheffield City Council contractors began cutting down eight trees on the street in the early hours of November as part of an improvement scheme.
The council said the work needed to be done as part of a £2billion scheme to get rid of diseased, damaging or dangerous trees.
But campaigners claim the trees are healthy and should remain.