Barrister arrested after climbing tree to stop “unlawful” felling

Powlesland: Posted selfie on Twitter from 30 feet up tree

An activist barrister who climbed a tree to stop it being felled after he gave advice that the action was illegal, was arrested for trespass and banned from climbing any trees in Northamptonshire as a condition of his bail.

Paul Powlesland, who practises from Garden Court Chambers and is the founder of Lawyers for Nature, was protesting at plans to fell 60 lime trees in Wellingborough as part of work on a new development.

The trees were subject to a tree preservation order, but North Northamptonshire Council argued that an exemption applied under the relevant regulations.

The barrister gave pro bono advice to a local residents group opposing the move that this was wrong and so felling the trees would be illegal.

Writing on Twitter on Tuesday, he said the advice was shared with the council and police but did not stop the work.

“So I travelled to Wellingborough to talk to the police on the ground. I explained my advice to them & they did not contradict it. However not only were the police unwilling to stop the illegal felling, they were threatening to arrest the protesters for aggravated trespass.

“This does not make sense as any trespass also has to be obstructing ‘lawful’ activity to be aggravated. The activity the protesters were obstructing appeared to be unlawful. However, the police had conferred with the tree surgeons & contractors & were clearly on their side.

“The police came over & read their prepared script on aggravated trespass. I tried to reason with them that such an arrest could not be made given the unlawful nature of the tree felling, which they completely ignored & began physically removing people from the area.”

Mr Powlesland said he faced a choice of allowing “these beautiful trees to be illegally & unnecessarily felled” or to climb one of them to “prevent the illegality”.

He went on: “Before I knew it, I was scrambling up the tree & seeing the perplexed expression of the police far below me.”

The work stopped as a result but after a time the barrister reported that the police had surrounded the tree with fencing covered in ‘crime scene’ tape. “It would be funny if it wasn’t such an abuse of power & waste of resources,” he said – there were 12 officers on the scene, along with a fire engine.

By the end of the day, the felling crews left and Mr Powlesland reported that the head of the council had offered a meeting. “I was starting to get hypothermia, so I’ve now left the tree.” He said the police did not allow anyone to pass him food, water or warm clothing.

He was arrested and later thanked Northamptonshire police “for cheering me up by giving me the hilariously ridiculous bail condition of ‘Not to climb any tree in Northamptonshire’.”

Yesterday morning, Mr Powlesland praised a man who climbed a tree in his place to stop the felling.

In a statement yesterday, Chief Inspector Tom Thompson said Northamptonshire Police was trying to “balance the right to protest with the lawful activity being conducted by the developers”.

He said the council had issued a temporary traffic regulation order, which meant the highway became the workplace for contractors.

“The land has been fenced off and closed to the public during operational hours. Therefore, anyone who walks onto the site and interrupts the work is in breach of this order and is committing an offence of aggravated trespass. Officers have issued information about this to those attending the protest each day.

“While most people have expressed their right to protest outside of the fencing, some have entered the site. Despite being given every opportunity by officers to return to the other side of the fence, which they refused to do, resulting in their arrest for breaching the order.”

A statement from council leader Jason Smithers said it remained satisfied that the developers “have the right to carry out the works under the statutory undertakers exemption provided by national legislation”.

    Readers Comments

  • Christopher Lennon says:

    Local Authorities are the principal destroyers of mature trees that cannot be replaced in a human lifetime.

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