A campaigner battling to stop a council felling hundreds of trees left court with a £16,000 bill yesterday and a warning that protesters flouting the law will be jailed.
Calvin Payne, 45, was found to be in contempt of court for twice breaching a High Court injunction banning campaigners from going within safety barriers around trees and for encouraging others to do the same on Facebook.
One of a small group of protesters stopping workmen in Sheffield from chopping down trees under a controversial road maintenance contract, he was given a three-month prison term suspended for 12 months and ordered to pay £16,000 of the council’s costs.
Calvin Payne, 45, was found in contempt of court for twice breaching court orders
Mr Payne wanted to stop the destruction of trees along this road in Sheffield
Contractors removed the large trees and replaced them with saplings, pictured
He said he did not know how the bill would be paid but a crowd-funding site may be set up to help him. He vowed to do whatever he can ‘legally’ to stop the ‘destruction of Sheffield’s heritage’.
Payne, who was made redundant from his social care job three years ago, spends all his time campaigning to save trees including elms, oaks, sycamores and limes.
Passing sentence at Sheffield Crown Court, which was packed with fellow protesters, Mr Justice Males implied future breaches would lead to a custodial term. He said Payne ‘could have no complaint’ if he had been jailed, although he was being given a ‘final chance’ because he was ‘a law-abiding and decent man of good character’.
But he added: ‘Lest anyone be under the impression that breaches of the injunction do not matter or will be treated lightly, let me make it clear that the time will come – and in my judgment has come – when deliberate and repeated breaches must be punished.’
He told Payne: ‘You have made it clear you regard yourself above the law. Your conduct in breaching the injunction was intended to and has prevented Sheffield City Council from carrying out work which has been held to be lawful.’ The judge noted that the council’s work was controversial but said public defiance in breaking the court injunction was ‘damaging to the rule of law’.
Payne said outside court he was ‘obviously slightly relieved’ not to have been jailed. He added: ‘This will all continue in one form or another. I felt what I did was necessary and although it was illegal, it was also peaceful and justified and I believe Sheffield is a better place for it.
‘I have no contempt for the judge or the court, but I do have contempt for the council’s policy we are fighting.’ So far 5,500 trees have been felled under a £2.2billion 25-year PFI deal with contractors Amey and another 500 are due to be chopped down before the end of the year. The authority insists contractors are removing only dead, dying, diseased, damaged or dangerous trees as part of the deal signed with the Labour-run council. But residents have been incensed by the loss of trees, many of which they claim were healthy and had stood for decades.
A spokesman for the council said: ‘We hope people will now protest peacefully outside safety zones without breaching the injunction.’