An independent report into South Yorkshire Police’s handling of the Sheffield trees protests was received today (28, June 2018) by Members of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s Public Accountability Board (PAB).

The report was commissioned in March by Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, following receipt of complaints from a growing number of people about the policing of the protests. The increase in complaints followed the force’s implementation of Operation Quito from 26 February, which represented a change in the level of police involvement.

Members of the PCC’s Advisory Panel on Policing Protests were asked to review the policing of tree protests in Sheffield and make recommendations and advise the PCC if there were lessons to be learnt.

In particular the Panel was asked to report on whether the policing of the protests was fair and proportionate and whether the force was effectively engaging with all parties to explain their actions, including with the wider community.

To establish the position, members of the Panel, Chaired by Andrew Lockley (also Chair of the PCC’s Independent Ethics Panel) had access to South Yorkshire Police’s Tactical Plan for Operation Quito and other documents, attended operational briefings for officers as well as observing their deployment at a protest site on 8 March on Kenwood Road, Sheffield.

The report provides ten recommendations for South Yorkshire Police and the Police and Crime Commissioner to consider.

Andrew Lockley said: “Following the change in the level of police involvement in February, there was a clear increase in criticisms of that involvement, both in the media and on social media, as well as in the amount of correspondence sent into the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

“The criticisms focussed on three main aspects of public perception: ‘the police were not impartial’; ‘their response was disproportionate’; and ‘police resources were being wasted’. We saw no evidence that the police were not impartial, nor that the policing was disproportionate, but we have made recommendations (see below) to reinforce impartiality and proportionality.

“The conclusion we have drawn is that Sheffield City Council, and its contractors Amey, have become dependent on the heightened level of SYP involvement, to carry out the tree-felling programme. Policing is paid for from the public purse; we are confident that SYP would not choose to spend its limited budget to police the trees protests, as whilst resources are being expended on tree protests, they are clearly unavailable elsewhere.”

Dr Alan Billings, Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, said: “I welcome the recommendations put forward by the Advisory Panel for Policing Protests and will be working with South Yorkshire Police and Sheffield City Council to implement them.

“However, I am hopeful that Sheffield City Council and Amey will find a way forward that will not result in the type of protest that we saw in the first few months of this year.

“When the programme does resume I will seek to engage with Sheffield City Council to ensure that the policing of protests can be as low key as possible, to ensure South Yorkshire Police resources can be used to better effect elsewhere.”

In summary it is recommended that if tree-felling is resumed, South Yorkshire Police:

  • Avoids travelling in convoy with contractors’ vehicles, except where intelligence indicates there may be a risk to vehicles or an obstruction to the highway may occur.
  • Ensures that there is an officer on felling sites to whom individuals can make complaints about allegations of criminal conduct.
  • Deploys officers in smaller numbers where possible, holding remaining officers in reserve nearby, while recognising that operational decisions are for the relevant senior officer to make.
  • Develops a policy for charging for policing services on private land where these are provided to commercial entities insofar as this is permitted by the present law.
  • Ensures media responses are quicker and tailored to public debate.
  • Considers adopting a more proactive role in showing officers engaging positively with protestors, e.g. by using photographs.
  • Considers distributing leaflets explaining the distinct role of the police in areas selected for tree felling.
  • Invites Sheffield City Council and Amey – supported on a political level by the PCC – to deploy senior representatives to talk to protestors when tree-felling is taking place.
  • Renews pressure on Sheffield City Council – supported on a political level by the PCC – to agree a Memorandum of Understanding as to the respective responsibilities of the Council, Amey and the police.

It is also recommended that Dr Billings invites the Home Office to review why the cost of policing which facilitates the performance of a commercial contract, should come at nil cost to the contractor.

The full report by the Advisory Panel for Policing Protests is available to view here.